Creating Authentic Reader Response Activities | Donalyn Miller

Typically, generic worksheets, book report templates, and cookie-cutter projects are assigned to prove that students read. Here are ways for them to truly share their responses to the text. 

Responding to what we read is a natural extension of reading. As someone who reviews and recommends books, I often respond to what I read through social media and blog posts, booklists, and workshops, but most readers don’t share their reading lives so publicly. These outward ways of responding are options for some readers, not reasonable goals or expectations for all. So, if most people don’t document their reading lives on Goodreads or a blog, how do readers naturally respond to books?

Each reader walks into a text with motivations, knowledge and experiences. They interact with the text for different purposes and extend what is read through responses. By exploring any reader’s authentic, self-directed responses, teachers and librarians can gain insight into students’ identity and their reading development, as well as their personal interests and goals.

Unfortunately, for many students, the reading response activities traditionally assigned and encouraged at school—such as book reports, comprehension tests, cookie-cutter projects, and other performative reading activities—center knowledge about a specific text and don’t include the reader. Looking at samples of reading response activities online, most offerings are worksheets with generic comprehension prompts or book report templates. It is difficult to see how such assignments help students become more proficient readers (and writers) or joyful ones. Talking with students, most believe that teachers assign reading response activities to confirm that kids are actually reading. Completing the assessments, projects, and writing activities attached becomes their purpose for reading, instead of any personal fulfillment.

How can we provide students with authentic opportunities to respond to what they read while also meeting our needs to equitably assess and measure their progress toward reading goals? It starts with examining how we define, model, teach, and encourage our students’ responses to what they read. Considering the ways that readers authentically respond to reading outside of a school setting provides insight into how educators can structure response activities and opportunities valuing students’ authentic reactions.


We are stuck in the world of the book long after we finish it. Emotions linger. We remain connected to the characters or ideas in a text—playing parts and concepts over and over in our minds. We reconsider our reactions to the text. Why did this part upset me so? Why does this idea makes me uncomfortable? When a text we read provokes our emotions or inspires deeper processing, we may continue thinking about it long after we finish reading it. We may not realize a book’s impact on our thinking or identity until much later. Invite students to create their reading autobiographies, the books and reading experiences that have influenced them. Offer choice in response options such as creating a visual timeline of books or writing an essay. Hold reading celebrations several times a year, so that students can look back over their reading lives and identify meaningful reading experiences.


What we read compels us to act. We learn about water scarcity while reading A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park and spend hours on the Internet researching water projects around the globe. We read a book about nurses during World War II and look up more books and articles on the topic. Reading often sparks additional reading and research, but reading can change our behavior, too. Reading about the needs of our community might compel us to participate in working toward solutions. We might pick up a book to learn a new skill or develop better habits. What lingering questions do we have after reading this text? What does this text make us feel or want to do? How does this text encourage us to change our behavior or thinking? Encourage students to follow their passions wherever their interests and reading can take them. Teach and model the skills students need to research and evaluate information. Offer lists and resources that connect texts and media across genres, format, topics, themes, and historical time periods.


For many, the act of reading is not finished until we have had the opportunity to pass along the book or chat with someone else who has read it. Recommending a text can be the most personalized form of reading response. When recommending books to individual readers, what we know about the reader matters more than what we know about books. The longer readers know one another, the more targeted and tailored our book recommendations become. We filter every book choice through our knowledge of that person’s interests, desires, and previous reading experiences—only limited by our own. Set aside regular time for students to book talk and discuss books with one another. Help students create lists of recommendations for summer reading or younger grade levels. Encourage reader-to-reader relationships with students who share common reading interests.

It is possible to determine students’ growth as readers and writers without sacrificing authenticity when structuring reading response activities. Recognize that few readers produce arts and crafts or write essays when they read a book. Students do not need to create a project or take a test to “prove” they read a book. Create opportunities for students to connect with other readers via online platforms or class discussions. Collect resources that help students extend their reading through additional inquiry. Encourage young readers’ heartfelt responses, and they will find more enjoyment from reading.

Author Image
Donalyn Miller

Donalyn Miller (@donalynbooks) is an award-winning teacher, author, and staff development leader.

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing