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Believing and Doubting

Author: NYCWP

New York City Writing Project

Believing and Doubting


We often support our students to gain a literal understanding of texts we use in the classroom, but in truth we are looking for more than this. We want our students to engage with the text, to dialogue with it in their minds and to take the ideas presented to enhance their thinking. This activity, Believing and Doubting, allows students to read closely and review their thinking in relation to others, to compare and contrast the thinking of the group and to engage in critical thinking. It provides a way to get everyone’s ideas out there, to offer a safer way to respond to controversial content or pieces that there might be disagreement with, to encourage students to see that they can doubt things an author says and/or feel two ways about one article, to really enter in a conversation with an author, and to prepare for essays.


  1. In choosing a text, consider ones that are likely to raise differing responses. Also consider the length of the text in relation to the amount of time available for reading.

  1. Distribute the text and instruct students to read, noting their beliefs and doubts as they read. These should be written down in two lists: a list of beliefs and a list of doubts. The lists may contain quotes, notes, or comments. Tell them to make one list of things that they believe and think are true and then make a second list of things they doubt or they disagree with.

  1. When students are finished writing, give each student four pieces of colored paper. On each sheet they write one belief or doubt using felt pens.

They should write:

“I believe that ….”

“I agree that ….”

Write a quote and add “I agree/disagree with this.”

Remind students to print clearly. They don’t put their names – they are writing anonymously. When they have finished, they post their papers on the wall.

  1. When the papers are posted, tell students to walk around and read for about ten minutes. As they walk around, they should write down notes – anything that seems significant or important, anything they agree or disagree with, any questions that they have.

  1. Next, students return to their seats and take a few minutes to write. Say to them: In looking at these beliefs and doubts, what strikes you? What did you notice on the wall that you would like to comment on, argue about, or agree with?

  1. Have an open discussion of the text. Summarize points that come up.

This process can be simplified by having students annotate the text with their beliefs and doubts and then use these as the basis for writing.

This technique based upon an approach by Peter Elbow in “High Stakes and Low Stakes in Assigning and Responding to Writing.” New Directions for Teaching and Learning 69 (1997):

5 – 13.

© 2003 New York City Writing Project

DMU Timestamp: April 30, 2019 18:47

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