teaching idea: using sticky notes to encourage reader response

TEACHING IDEA: have students use sticky notes to keep track of their responses while reading
PURPOSE: to encourage students to develop reader response skills and habits
MATERIALS: small package of 2″x2″ sticky notes per student
PREP TIME: low (none, probably, aside from getting the sticky notes if I’m going to supply them)

In my literature and composition classes, I assign my students a reader response journal at the beginning of the semester. Essentially, they have to write a page (in informal, first-person language) detailing their response to each piece of assigned reading, whether it’s a short story, a poem, a chapter from a novel, etc. It’s intended to help them get in the habit of reflecting on their reading and identifying their own responses to what they’ve read, and–eventually–placing what they’ve read in the context of other things they’ve read/watched/heard about in the wider world. In a nutshell, it’s intended to help them become engaged, active readers. Eventually, they use these reader response entries as fodder for small-group literature circle-type discussions, or in-class writing assignments, or take-home essays.

At the beginning of the semester, I give them a handout that explains the purpose of the reading journals and what I expect from them. It includes some prompts and suggestions for the sorts of things they could write about, because many students have never done this kind of thing before. I also include a sample reading journal entry so they can see what I’m looking for.

Beth Newingham, an elementary school teacher, gets her students to use sticky notes (e.g. Post-It Notes) while they read, to help them develop good reader response habits and skills. She gets them to write their reponses on sticky notes and attach them to the page or passage they’re responding to. After the students are finished with the whole piece of reading, they arrange all their sticky notes on tracking sheets.

I used to do a version of this when I was a student. My novels and texts were always bristling with yellow sticky notes marking the pages and passages I thought were important; I’d write my ideas on the sticky notes and later I would refer to them when it was time to go back and write a formal paper.

I think I will try this out with my lit students, to get them started with the reader response process. For the Fundamental level students, I’d use the sticky-note-on-tracking sheet as a substitute for the reading journal entries, at least at first. For the higher levels, especially the Advanced and Provincial English students, I would still require them to write journal entries, because in addition to reader engagement, part of the purpose is to get them to write, write, write, so they get used to producing full sentences and paragraphs quickly and in volume. But either way, I will definitely be trying the sticky-note strategy at any level I teach. I’ll report back on how it works with the Provincial students after I try it this fall.

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