Standard Lesson

Developing a Definition of Reading through Investigation in Middle School

6 - 8
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Five 50-minute sessions
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Students engage in a hands-on, collaborative investigation of the definition of reading by participating in small group brainstorming sessions and an analysis of a variety of texts and the strategies they need to read them. Students also create individual Reader's Profiles with an online tool modeled on social networking sites. Sharing these profiles and reflecting on their own learning, students ultimately develop a working definition of reading which they refine during the year.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

In A Middle Mosaic: A Celebration of Reading, Writing, and Reflective Practice at the Middle Level, chapter authors Jeffrey Wilhelm and Cathy Fleischer indicate the value in making adolescent learners aware of literacy practices and their attitudes toward those practices. Wilhelm contends that if teachers "want students to know how to pursue and successfully complete specific kinds of reading tasks, then [they] need to make the general and task-specific processes of reading visible" (7).

Fleischer engages students in assignments that engage them in the very definition of reading and literacy, asking them to explore "what they believe constitutes knowledge, what they believe about how people learn to read and write, [and] what understandings and even values they hold about their own education" (69). Asking students to develop a collaborative definition of reading and then focusing on an individual reading profile will start the rich conversations and teachable moments about the purposes and processes involved in reading.

Further Reading

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.

Materials and Technology

  • One note card for each student

  • Paper, pens

  • A variety of texts for analysis and investigation



  • Compile a large variety of texts. Include picture books, beginning readers, elementary books on different reading levels, textbooks from different grades and subjects (elementary through college level), general fiction and non-fiction, reference books, dictionaries, poetry anthologies, plays, diaries, and professional books. Also include magazines and newspapers as well as technical reading, such as instructions, manuals, and job applications. Print a few Web-based texts such as a home page for a news source, a blog entry, or a Wikipedia entry to round out the collection.

  • Make copies of necessary handouts.

  • Type and copy the compiled list of student definitions of reading between Sessions One and Two.

  • Type and prepare an overhead of the group definitions between Sessions Two and Three.

  • Schedule an Internet-connected computer lab for Session Four.

  • Test the ReadWriteThink Profile Publisher interactive on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tool and ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the technical support page.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • analyze a variety of texts for audience, purpose, and strategies they might use to read them.

  • develop and continue to refine a definition of reading.

  • create and share a Reader's Profile that summarizes their habits and attitudes toward reading.

Session One

  1. As you hand out one note card to each student in the class, tell students that today they will begin working on developing a definition of reading.

  2. Ask students to answer the question, “What is reading?” on the note card.

  3. When students are finished, collect the note cards. Before the next session, compile the list of definitions on a handout, keeping each student’s work anonymous. Correct any errors in spelling or usage so students focus on the content of their classmates’ responses.

  4. Now distribute copies of the Reading Survey handout. Tell students that they will be continuing their definition of reading, but this time, they’ll be taking a more personal approach. The questions will ask them to think about their own habits, attitudes, and practices as readers.

  5. Students should use the remainder of the session to get started on their Reading Survey handout. Move around the room, encouraging student response and answering any questions students may have. If students finish during the session, collect the work for use in a future activity. If students do not finish during the session, ask them to have the survey complete for the next class, as it will be the basis for future work.

Session Two

  1. Collect any completed Reading Survey handouts and remind students that in the previous session, they wrote individual definitions of reading. Tell them that they will be reviewing all of those definitions of reading and working in groups to write a definition of reading they can all agree upon.

  2. Present the compiled list of definitions you prepared from the individual student responses. Remind students that at this point, they are not responding to the definitions. They should be polite and respectful of their classmates’ work and ideas.

  3. Put students into groups of three or four and have them read through the list again, discussing which elements they feel are most needed in a concise, but relatively complete, definition of reading.

  4. Students will need to make notes on their papers as they discuss, because they will then rewrite a definition of reading that they agree upon as a group.

  5. Collect the new definition that each group has generated for analysis in the next session.

  6. At the end of the session, introduce the Reader’s Profile activity by giving each student a copy of the Reader’s Profile Directions and a Sample Reader’s Profile (a two-sided handout would work well). Explain that after the class has worked through some more defining activities, they will make a Reader’s Profile of their own using an online tool.

  7. Talk about how the Reading Survey handout from the previous session and the definition of reading they just developed will be useful in completing this task later in the lesson.

Session Three

  1. Start this session by telling students they will work on refining their definitions by doing some hands-on investigation.

  2. Hand out copies of the many different types of texts you gathered in preparation for the lesson. Each student will have one text from which to work.

  3. After giving students a minute or two to look at their texts, distribute the Defining Reading: Hands-on Investigation sheet. Discuss how important it is to know how to read different types of texts, noting the variety that the students now have in their hands. The investigation sheet will help them start sorting ways that a variety of texts are similar and different from one another.

  4. Model what is expected of each student by going over the elements of the investigation sheet with a sample. Using the text of your choice, show students how one comes about deciding the intended audience, what skills are needed to read a specific text, etc. Examine the various parts of the text (depending on the text, of course) while asking students questions or by thinking aloud so that students can see how they complete the tasks asked of them.

  5. With this information, students will complete the Defining Reading Hands-on Investigation for their text.

  6. After they complete the independent task, they will then pair with a partner to go over what they identified and see if they together can come up with more ideas for each other. Ask them to begin focusing specifically on the various strategies that each text might call for.

  7. Finally, if time permits, students will get in a group of four and try to extend each analysis further.

  8. At this point, the class will come together and brainstorm on the board a large list of strategies from all the different types of books. Watch for teachable moments on issues such as

    • Length does not mean the book is better, worse, easier, or more difficult

    • Processes or strategies to use before, during, and after reading

    • The importance of being an active reader, and how “active” varies depending on the text
  9. Display an overhead of the list of ideas and the definitions that the groups wrote during Session Two. Lead a discussion in which students compare, evaluate, and summarize the most important aspects of their definitions and write a class-generated definition of reading at the bottom of the overhead.

  10. Post the agreed-upon definition of reading in a prominent place in the classroom and referred back to throughout the year. As new insights emerge the definition can be revised.

  11. Ask students to keep this session’s activities in mind as they work tomorrow on their individual Reader’s Profiles using an online tool.

Session Four

  1. Return students’ Reading Survey handouts and ask them to get out the Reader’s Profile Directions and a Sample Reader’s Profile from a previous session. Review the directions and sample.

  2. Direct students to the ReadWriteThink Profile Publisher and have them complete a Reader’s Profile following the Reader’s Profile Directions and the directions from within the interactive tool.

  3. Have students print their profiles when they are finished, as they cannot save work within the tool.

  4. Give students time to draw a picture of themselves as readers (or a scene or character from a favorite book, etc.) in the box provided for an image.

Session Five

  1. Before this session, put students’ completed Reader’s Profiles up around the room.

  2. Distribute copies of the Defining Reading Reflection Sheet and point out the section with squares at the top of the sheet.

  3. Inform students that they will have part of this session to go around the room looking at their classmates’ profiles. They should find four classmates who they feel are most similar to them as readers. They should then list those students’ names in the spaces provided and reflect on why they are similar.

  4. When they have completed this part of the activity, they should complete the reflection on what they have learned in this lesson.


  • Keep the Reading Survey Handout and the completed Reader’s Profile for each student and have the class do them again at the end of the year. Students can then compare how they have grown and changed in their thoughts on reading over the course of the school year.

  • Students can group the texts used for investigation in class and discuss the different groups that they identify. These groups might include the following distinctions: non-fiction and fiction, varying reading levels, pictures and no pictures. This can allow for extended talk on the variety that literature within a certain format or genre can take. Students can also categorize texts according to the strategies needed to successfully read them.

  • Because of the wide variety of reading discussed here, you may wish to limit the discussion to Web-based reading, focusing on how the act of reading is different in a digital context.

  • After reviewing their profiles, ask students to write three goals for themselves, focusing on the processes they feel need the most work and/or will be the most beneficial to them.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Students complete Defining Reading Reflection Sheet, which can be assessed in combination with their completed Reader’s Profiles and participation in the creation of the group and class definitions of reading.

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