Active vs. Passive Reading
Lesson Plan - Academic Skills

Skill Area: Reading
Subject: English Language Arts
Learning Objectives: This lesson helps students strengthen their understanding of the distinction between active and passive reading, and employ key steps to converse with complex texts. Through completion of this activity, students will be able to: 1) improve the ability to engage in active reading and thinking, and 2) integrate the act of inquiry into daily reading practices.

Materials Needed

View Handout

View Handout

Video tutorial: "Active vs. Passive Reading," available for students in the Academic Success Corner of your ABC-CLIO database.

Provided handout (online or hard copy) with four student exercises

Instructional Procedure

Day 1

To kick off the activity, engage students in an informal class discussion about what they consider to be the differences between active and passive reading, possibly engaging in collaborative word association on a blackboard or jamboard.

Then, have the class watch the video tutorial "Active vs. Passive Reading" to see if any additional insights arise. (Note that the exercise sequence below aligns with the tutorial.)

After the discussion and viewing, students can engage in a possible pre-exercise discussion by "passively" reading a brief text selected by the instructor: skimming a paragraph, for example, then covering it and attempting to summarize it from memory and extract a few details.

Students then proceed to Active Reading Exercise 1 (Instructors can determine which exercises are best completed individually, and which can benefit from collaboration.

In Exercise 1 ("Looking for Meaning"), students embark on their reading experience with a social commentary addressing the role of comic book superheroes in American culture and history ("The Gods Next door: Superheroes as Reflections of American Culture"). Students read the article's brief introduction, and then identify meaning of words/phrases and concepts. The introduction's first sentence is broken down for readers, and then students themselves determine which concepts to extract and explain.

Outcome of Day 1: Students understand the process of breaking down passages and sentences to identify and isolate the concepts fundamental to meaning.

Day 2

Active Reading Exercise 2 ("Writing Down Interesting Ideas") can be completed either as homework, or as an in-class activity. Students move forward from the article's introduction, reading the first section "Crime Fighting and Secret Identities." In this exercise, students are provided more flexibility as they engage in basic annotation, using the handout to identify key ideas they find either interesting, or challenging.

Students are then prepared to move forward to Active Reading Exercise 3 ("Summarizing to Demonstrate Understanding"), in which they read the entire essay and engage in a section-by-section summary, identifying each section's primary claim, as if they are breaking the text down for someone who hasn't read it.

Outcome of Day 2: Students transition from identifying a text's important ideas to summarizing as a method of demonstrating understanding of the text in its entirety.

Day 3

Active Reading Exercise 4 ("Asking Questions of the Text") serves as the culmination of the activity, as students reread the article once more, and transition into an inquiry mindset, articulating one question in response to each section of the text, with prompts to assist along the way.

Outcome of Day 3: Students emerge with greater confidence as readers, and an understanding of the vital role questioning the text plays in active reading and thinking.


Students can work through the exercises alone or in collaboration, and the full lesson can be conducted either in the classroom, in an online setting, or a combination of both.


Students will be assessed on their ability to:

  • Demonstrate the ability to identify important ideas in a text
  • Summarize a text effectively to convey meaning
  • Employ inquiry skills in response to a text

Additional Resources

Deskins, Liz. "Inquiry Studies: Needed Skills." School Library Monthly, 28, no. 5, February 2012. School Library Connection,

Kuhlthau, Carol C., Leslie K. Maniotes, and Ann K. Caspari. Guided Inquiry Design: A Framework for Inquiry in Your School. Libraries Unlimited, 2012.

Stripling, Barbara K. "Deep Reading during Inquiry [34:50]." School Library Connection, June 2021,

Stripling, Barbara K. "How Deep Reading Helps Inquiry." School Library Connection, April 2021,

Tignor, Brittany. "Not So Standard Vacation: A Guide to Active Reading of the National School Library Standards." School Library Connection, July 2018.

Seth Taylor
Seth Taylor, MFA, has 20 years of experience in higher education as a teacher, administrator and professional development specialist. He has taught graduate and undergraduate courses in Rhetoric, Composition and Research Methodology San Diego State University, Colorado State University, and the University of Redlands.

MLA Citation

Taylor, Seth. "Active Vs. Passive Reading." ABC-CLIO Solutions, ABC-CLIO, 2022, Accessed 4 Oct. 2022.

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