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Dialogue with a Text

Author: NYCWP



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Dialogue with a Text: A Conversation of Ideas


Students who read critically engage the ideas they encounter in print; they are willing to consider those ideas as well as question them. But too often student readers are awed by the texts they read. They may feel closed out of the printed words, unable to read past a first paragraph or first page. Or they may accept the text outright, reading solely as consumers of other ideas, granting to words in print an expertise they deny themselves. When we allow our students to respond to what they read by writing and talking about what puzzles them, or about what the ideas in the text remind them of, or why these ideas annoy them, we encourage reading that is both active and dynamic. And by defining comprehension as a collaboration between readers and text, we invite students to consider and question both text and idea.

Dialogue writing with a text is a way of inviting students to read as collaborators. It encourage student readers to see themselves as both learners and equals, as individuals with something to gain and something to offer in a conversation of ideas.


Dialogue writing can help to deepen and organize one’s thinking about a text. But in order for this to occur, students will need time to “work” with a text in a variety of ways both individually and in collaboration with others.

  1. INDEPENDENT READING: Once a text has been introduced to the class, invite students “talk” to the text with their pens as they are reading either by annotating in the margins and/or by responding in their notebooks using a response or double entry format.

  1. COLLABORATIVE READING (Text Rendering): After the students have finished reading and responding to the text, ask them to look the text over and mark passages/lines that interest them. When they have completed this, invite them to hold a “conversation” about the text using only the words of the text (It might be helpful to refer to this as “jamming” on a text.), OR ask them to select three lines or passages that interest them and number these 1, 2, and 3. then go around the room three times, the first time having each person read the passage he/she marked number one, the second time around reading the passage number two and so on. Here it’s important to tell the group that it is fine to repeat passages.

  1. SPECULATIVE WRITING: When the collaborative reading is completed, ask the students to respond in writing – to talk out loud on paper – about what they are now thinking/feeling about the text. At this point, you might ask students to read their responses to one another in small groups OR invite each student to read as much as a line/as little as a word from their written responses to the large group.

  1. DIALOGUE WRITING: Students may now be ready to write a dialogue between themselves and the author about the ideas in the text. To write the dialogue:

  1. Suggest that each person first create a setting – as a way to make this conversation more real. (You might want to brainstorm some of these together.)
  2. Remind everyone to be fair when they write this dialogue – to not only represent his/her own thinking, but also the author’s, or vice-versa, to not only represent the author, but also oneself.

  1. PROCESS WRTIING: Students can now do some written reflecting on the dialogue activity. Ask them what it was like to write this dialogue with the author… What they noticed about themselves as readers, as thinkers…what they noticed about the text, about their idea/thinking about the text.

  1. PAIRED SHARING/PROCESS POINTS: Share the dialogue in pairs or groups of three. When the groups are finished, ask if there was anything anyone noticed in hearing these dialogues that he/she would like to mention to the class.

Students may comment on how different the focus of each of their dialogues was, on how each of them noticed things in the text that the others had not noticed. They may notice that they are learning from each other/seeing other possibilities as a result of sharing these dialogues. Other students will notice the similarities in the dialogues and take this as confirmation of their thinking.


Once students are familiar with dialogue writing, they can be asked to write dialogues in class or for homework as an initial way of working with new material. Dialogues also serve as a way of synthesizing material learned over a period of time. They can be assigned as take-home exams/papers, as a final exam, as a way of pulling together various items/texts which have been studied over a term. Students can write dialogues between:

  • Old and new information
  • Authors of various texts
  • Themselves and an author/historical figure etc.
  • Historical figures from the same/different periods
  • Political concepts
  • Characters in a novel/s
  • An author and character/s
  • Scientific concepts
  • Chemical elements
  • Numerical quantities
  • Figures in a painting

Closing Points

  1. Dialogue writing encourages student to play with language, to try out a variety of forms and structures.

  1. Dialogue writing pushes students beyond mere impressionistic readings; it helps them to locate points of agreement, difference and contradiction as well as to bridge the gap between text and self by allowing the text to stand next to the insights gained through response.

When students write dialogues, they have opportunities to collaborate with the ideas of others (in this case, authors and fellow students) in order to question, to probe, to argue, to commiserate, to agree, to consider those particular ideas. The activity places in their hands the responsibility not only for their own thinking, but for the thinking of another. It is important that students be given opportunities to read as collaborators – to participate in conversations of ideas between themselves and a text so they can learn to read as what Paolo Freire call “…critical co-investigators.” Thus literacy becomes for them more than the static consumption of skills, as they engage in a range of activities where they must both speak for themselves and for the ideas they encounter in the texts they read.

Workshop prepared by: Elaine Avidon

With help from Gail Kleiner, Denise Levine,

Ed Osterman and Associates of the Bard College Institute for Writing and Thinking

DMU Timestamp: April 30, 2019 18:47

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