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Reading & Writing in the Disciplines

Bringing It All Together – English


Brenda Green, executive director of the Center for Black Literature, ends her weekly radio show by saying: “The reader is always writing and the writer is always reading. Keep reading; keep writing.” This closing remark conveys our understanding of the close relationship between reading and writing. This section considers important elements of lesson design related to reading and writing in English and explores important considerations about making the room an active learning space. It offers insights into the relationship between reading and writing and ends with comments about interdisciplinary instruction.


Lessons should consider the time before, during, and after reading activities. How will you get students into the reading? How will they move through the assessment? And, finally, how will you help them retain, apply, or otherwise consider what they have read? This process is sometimes referred to as “within, through, and beyond.” The National Urban Alliance refers to this process as priming (brainstorming, generative thinking, introduction of a concept, etc.), processing (summarizing/synthesizing, compare/contrast, cause/effect, etc.), and retaining for mastery (applying, presenting, or otherwise demonstrating and reinforcing understanding).

When approaching a text, teachers should first surface and explore a concept from the text in an interesting and engaging way before students begin reading. The concept introduction should tap students’ background knowledge or interests. Once students have explored the concept, the teacher can have students process the concept in a variety of ways that involve as many of the language arts as possible—talking, listening, reading and writing, viewing. When students have finished reading the text, the teacher should arrange other activities in which students apply the concept in order to retain their understanding of it.

Video and Reflection: Watch Teacher Collaboration Across Disciplines to see a group of 7th-grade teachers from different disciplines discuss information about students they have in common. You may want to take notes on the questions below.

  • Before you watch: What kinds of formal and informal conversations do you have with colleagues in other disciplines about your students’ literacy development?
  • Watch the video: What do the teachers say about the role of reading and writing in their courses that support the English teacher’s work? How does the English teacher’s work support the other disciplines in their reading and writing instruction?
  • Reflect: How would this process be enriched if students were invited into this discussion?

Apply: How does common planning time help students develop their writing? How can you encourage your department to meet more frequently? Write a two-page reflection with concrete steps for encouraging collaboration across the content areas.


Classroom design is another important consideration. How easy is it for students to access material? See the whiteboard? Discuss the reading? The concept of transmedia as explained by the Knowledgeworks Foundation is useful when thinking about how to set up classroom for reading and writing. Transmedia is the notion of designing the environment so that it becomes an interactive learning experience that supports explicit instruction and independent learning. How will you arrange desks? Set up technology? Display visual aids? All of these elements can support or distract from learning. Consider what elements are in your control and design them to aid instruction. Consider redundancy, interactivity, ease of movement, and collaboration. Do students have multiple opportunities to see and interact with information? Does the room invite them to explore and learn on their own? Can they interact with print, computers, or other learning stations? How easy is it for students to talk about their work? Are they comfortable asking questions about their understanding? Are they open to constructive criticism? Can they look over to the next student and share with ease? If they get up, can they easily interact with each other? The room should aid rather than discourage learning.

Apply: Select three questions from the text above and write a brief response.


Reading influences how we write, and writing influences how we read. For example, reading widely helps us see many models of writing for different purposes. By the same token, writing can help us read more methodically. So, when focusing on crafting a thesis sentence, we might be more conscious of locating the central thesis of a text we are reading.

Video and Reflection: Watch Reading, Writing, and Responding to Poetry to see how a creative writing teacher has students write poetry after being inspired by reading poetry. You may want to take notes on the questions below.

  • Before you watch: Frequently, when students study literature or poetry in school, they are asked to write “about” literature and poetry in the form of a literary analysis. What other kinds of writing assignments can you think of for your students where the reading material becomes an inspiration and a model for writing?
  • Watch the video: After producing their poems and workshopping them with each other and their teacher, students also write reflective essays about their poetry. What role does writing about writing play in a student’s development?
  • Reflect: How would you explain to your students the value of writing about their writing?

Reading and Writing Stances

Richard Beach (2002) explains how students can assume different stances while asking the same questions of text written and text read. As a reader, the questions help deepen understanding of the reading material. As a writer, the questions help determine editing and revision work that can make the writing more meaningful. For example, the student can adapt a KWL strategy in advance of reading by asking, What do I know? What do I need to know? And what do I want to know about a topic to help understand the reading? As a writer, the student would ask, What might my readers already know about my writing topic? What do they need to know? And what might they be interested to know?

Reflection: List other helpful questions for students to ask when developing their reading/writing stance.


This course explored the role of reading and writing in English studies. More than any other subjects, reading and writing are often thought to be the sole territory of the English studies discipline. They are often thought to be ubiquitous within the discipline; therefore, it is not always clear how they are discipline-specific. However, this course hopefully has shown the ways in which reading and writing has a specific role within English that is different from other disciplines.

Unit 5 first noted major ideas or considerations about reading and writing in English, such as motivation, engagement, text complexity, multiliteracies, language study, standards, and formative assessment. The next units looked at reasons for reading and writing in English, most notably the role of personal, civic, and career or vocational purposes that are best supported in English studies and easily used as a bridge to formal academic reading and writing. After highlighting several instructional strategies and instructional formats for teaching reading and writing in English, the last unit discussed how reading and writing converge and presented thoughts on how to take this into consideration when planning for instruction.


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Fischer, D., & Frey, N. (2013). Better learning through structured teaching: A framework for the gradual release of responsibility. (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

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Jenson, E. (2005). Teaching with the brain in mind. (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

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Lapp, D. & Fisher, D. (2011). Handbook of research on teaching the English language arts. London: Routledge.

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Rothstein, A. S., Rothstein, E., & Lauber, G. (2007). Writing as learning: A content- based approach (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Taff, S. W., Blachowijcz, C., & Fisher, P. (2009). Vocabulary instruction for diverse learners. In Morrow, L. M., Rueda, R., & Lapp, D. (Eds.). Handbook of research on literacy and diversity. New York: The Guilford Press, 320–336.

Zwiers, J. (2014). Building academic language. (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.


Professional organizations such as the National Center for Literacy EducationNational Council of Teachers of English, the National Writing Project, and the International Literacy Association are important resources for learning how to teach reading and writing in English studies.

Resource for student writing:
A Collection of Online Publishing Opportunities for Student Writing

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Reading & Writing in the Disciplines


Produced by WGBH Educational Foundation. 2015.
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