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Text on Text

Author: NYCWP



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Text on Text: Collaborative Conversations

Often reading can seem like a very private, even lonely act. We think about what we need in our heads; judgments, form interpretations and raise questions on our own. However, the reading experience can be made more collaborative through writing and talking. Writing can help us think through our responses. When this writing is shared with other students who are reading the same work simultaneously, it provides us with the opportunity to pool our thinking about what we’ve read and to work together to form interpretations of a text.


  1. Place students in groups of four or three.

  1. Give each student a copy of the text to be read. The text should be glued or stapled to the middle of a larger sheet of newsprint.

  1. Give each student 10 minutes to read the text silently with pen (or different colored markers0 in hand. As they read, they should be directed to make comments right on the paper. Invite the students to have a conversation with the text; jot down first thoughts, raise questions, make guesses about meaning. Tell the students that these comments will be read by others, but they should not be concerned about issues of correctness.

  1. Students will then pass their newsprint to the person sitting on the left. Instruct students to read the text again. As they read this time, they should also read their classmate’s comments. Ask students to respond in writing to some of the comments and questions already visible on the newsprint. In other words, they should add their thinking to their classmate’s.

  1. Students will pass the newsprint once again to the person on the left. Once again, students should be directed to read both the text and the comments written by classmates and add their own thoughts to the statements and questions already there. In other words, they should continue the dialogue on paper.

  1. If students are in groups of four, they will pass the newsprint one more time and do as before.

  1. Students will make one final pass to the left and receive their original newsprint. Now, each student should take some time to read all of the comments on the paper.

  1. Ask students to gather together with the people in their small group to discuss the text and the comments made on the newsprint. You might ask them to see if they can develop an interpretation of the text together or, depending on the content and your purposes, ask them to respond to a particular question.

  1. Students should gather together as a whole class. At this point, you might want to ask these questions:

    1. What was it like to do this? What did you notice happened as the newsprint circulated?
    2. What were some of the insights or interpretations your group had?

  1. The next step might be further discussion, reading of another work, or the development of a formal piece of writing based on one’s understanding of the text.

Note: This activity can be used with any text of some complexity. You want to use a text that may generate some disagreement and where there are layers of meaning to be explored. This activity can be used with poems, quotations, Shakespearean soliloquies, original historical documents, maps, graphs, art work, math problems, or several difficult but essential paragraphs from an essay, textbook, or news article.


  1. Students venture interpretations of text on their own.

  1. Students can see how others have commented in writing on the same text and can respond to peer comments.

  1. The round-robin of reading and response helps students to clarify their thinking and deepen their understanding of the work.

  1. The small group discussion that follows the reading and writing offers students the opportunity to share their ideas about a text and to collaborate on an original interpretation that has not been influenced by the teacher.


Pradl, Gordon. Literature for Democracy: Reading as a Social Act. New Jersey: Boynton/Cook. 1996.

Prepared by:

Nick D’Alessandro

© 1997, New York City Writing Project

DMU Timestamp: April 30, 2019 18:47

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