Getting the Most Out of Reading Response Tasks

Do you have students do anything while they read independently? Giving students a task to do while reading, like a reading response prompt or a way to organize and record their thinking (note-taking, annotating text, etc.), has great potential to help students grow as readers. 

BUT, we need to be aware that always requiring students to be writing about their reading in the same dry ways (or ways for which students don't see a purpose) can choke students' love and excitement about reading. It's okay for kids to just... read. So we need a balance.


Let's also remember that simply holding students accountable to "do the reading" is NOT our job as teachers. Our goal is to help students grow as readers, and providing engaging, meaningful tasks that support and empower students as readers can help with this goal. Here are some keys to do just that.

Key #1: Connect the task to a reading lesson.

Reading response tasks take on purpose when students can see a connection to what you've been working on together in your reading mini-lessons. The skills and strategies you introduce and practice together as a class or small group can be "tried out" in students' independent reading.

This note-taking T-chart gives students a way to apply the "determining importance" strategy from your reading mini-lessons.

Maybe you're teaching about text features found in informational texts, so you have students find and practice analyzing certain text features within their self-selected informational texts, using a response page like the digital one shown below.

Students can use a digital response page like this one to connect their reading to a lesson on text features like sidebars.

Key #2: Keep the focus of the task narrow.

When asking students to respond to their reading or record their thinking, keep the focus narrow. Open-ended tasks like, "Record what you're thinking about the events," are vague and thus overwhelming to many students. They get so caught up in trying to come up with "thoughts" to record that they lose concentration on what they're actually reading. Giving students a clear direction within the task makes it feel more doable, more worthwhile.

This response page prompts students to focus on one important moment within the text to analyze.

Key #3: Make sure students don't need to finish reading before starting.

The best reading response tasks allow students to work on them within the text, before the reading is finished. Students simply pause their reading to respond to the prompt. Tasks that first require the entire text to be read don't allow students to record their thoughts at the point they should be having those thoughts: while they are reading.

This response page is meant to be worked on while students read, at any point in the text.

Key #4: Give a task meaning by using it as a tool for what comes next.

If students know that the reading response task you give them will in turn be used for something else, it gives that task more meaning. Maybe students will need their completed response page for a book club meeting or class discussion related to the focus of the response page. These interactions can be particularly rich if each student is using a different text for the same reading task. 

For example, imagine a small group discussion about important decisions a main character makes, finding connections, patterns, and differences in character motivations and influences, and the causes and effects of those decisions. In preparation for the discussion, each student has already identified and analyzed a character decision from their own text through the independent reading task you assigned.

This small group discusses a response page which prompted them to focus on a single decision made by a character in their text.

Key #5: A bit of novelty and freshness goes a long way.

Changing up the types of reading tasks you assign is a big factor in students' engagement. Here are some formats I've had success with:

  • Have students jot their thinking on sticky notes, marking the page where the thinking occurred. Then have them choose the one sticky note with their most insightful thinking to bring to a class discussion or stick on the board for an informal assessment.
  • Within a reader's notebook, teach students simple graphic organizers that can be applied to lots of situations (e.g. t-chart, web, Venn diagram, flow chart) and then let students set up the organizer in their notebook that makes sense for the reading response topic you give.
  • Have students record their response on their desk with a whiteboard marker, then gallery walk to read their classmates' responses ahead of a group chat.
  • Allow students to respond visually, with a drawing, diagram, or purposeful doodles, which can then become a jumping off point for a written response.
  • Give students some choice. Maybe you provide three options and students can choose the one they want to use. 

Here are three stacks of response pages focused on text events. Students can choose the one that best suits them and their book.

  • Kids love little notebooks. They're just drawn to them. Spiral bound steno pads are great, or small 3x5 memo pads are even less expensive (I've found a 24-pack for $15 on Amazon; not an affiliate link) and don't have to last an entire school year to be an effective investment. It's one of the reasons I chose that notebooky-feel when creating my response pages.
  • Use digital reading response tasks, like the digital versions of my response pages where students use Google Slides to type their response, or try apps like Telegami, ChatterPix Kids, or PicCollage.
In my digital response pages, students use Google Slides to type their responses.

Changing up the structure too often has its drawbacks. You can end up spending more time explaining a new task format than it takes students to actually do it! One solution is to have a rather consistent format that has variety within it, like the notebook response pages you've seen in the photos.

Want to know more about my reading response pages?

I created the response pages (the ones shown in the photos) with a lot of love and care, and with the following characteristics at their heart:


I tried to create prompts that drew students deeper into the texts they were reading, and pages that were visually appealing and thoughtfully crafted.


I wanted pages students could use during their reading, at any point in their reading, and with virtually any text. 64 different pages geared to literature and 57 pages geared to informational texts, plus templates to create custom pages, make it easy to have lots of options on hand. Lots of teachers choose single pages to use as stand-alone tasks, but many also build custom reader's notebooks by stapling together a few pages for students to use during the course of a book or to support a student-led book club. Plus, each response page comes in three formats: the original "half-page" format, a "full-page" format, and a digital format using Google Slides.


I created three differentiated versions of every single response page. I nicknamed them "light roast," "medium roast" and "dark roast" as a nod to my love for coffee. The differentiation allows you to give different students tasks with similar content but at an appropriate level of complexity for each student. 


With all the options included (three different formats, three different levels of all three formats!), I wanted to build in ways to make it easy for teachers to find what they want. So within the PDFs are reference guides with clickable page numbers that take you directly to the particular response page, as well as the Adobe bookmark pane with each page categorized by roast and topic. 

And in the Google Slides digital versions is a slide equivalent to a clickable table of contents, as well as a slide with tips and instructions for how to create new files with just the slides you want to assign to students.

Click HERE or the image above to see my reading response page resource in my TpT shop!