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The Teaching Space Podcast

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Jun 25, 2019

Episode 60 of The Teaching Space Podcast delves into active reading.


Last year I read 100 books. I know. It’s a crazy number and it’s not something I’m planning to repeat any time soon (I chat about this in episode 47).

While I have run no official statistical analysis on my 2018 reading list (surprised?) I’d estimate 90% were audiobooks. I’m a huge fan of audiobooks, but one downside for me, is I don’t fully absorb everything I hear. While this is usually OK for fiction, it’s sometimes problematic for non-fiction, particularly if I’m reading for professional reasons (e.g. study).

This has lead me to explore active reading, and that’s what I will talk to you about today.

What is Active Reading?

According to the Open University website, active reading is “reading something with a determination to understand and evaluate it for its relevance to your needs”.

When I’m listening to an audiobook or a podcast, I’m listening but I am definitely not evaluating at a high level. The closest I come to evaluating is deciding whether or not I like the narrator’s voice (can I listen to it for 10 hours?!)

There’s a big difference between the passive way I consume audiobooks and the definition of active reading.

How to Make Your Reading Active

  1. Highlight and annotate important passages of the book (I do this on the second pass because you don’t always know what is important on the first read). Highlight selectively.
  2. Build an alternative index (I read about this in an article written by Shawn Blanc, but I believe the concept came from Maria Popova from Brain Pickings). It’s a personalised index based on your own ideas.
  3. Split screen approach: this is what I am experimenting with at the moment. I read on my iPad and have the Kindle app open on the left, and my note-taking app open on the right. I read for, then make notes.



  1. SKIM through the text quickly to get an overall impression.
  2. QUESTION. If you are reading it for a particular purpose (for example, to answer an assignment), ask yourself how it helps. Also ask questions of the text: Who? What? Where? When? How?
  3. READ. Read the text in a focused, and fairly speedy way.
  4. REMEMBER. Test your memory - but don’t worry if you can’t remember much.
  5. REVIEW. Read the text in more detail, taking notes. Use your own words.

What About Those Audiobooks?

I’m not giving up audiobooks any time soon; I love them. But I have decided to focus on using them for fiction only. I need to be more active when reading non-fiction.

Wrap up

That’s all from me today, before I go, I have one small ask. Please sign up for my weekly email newsletter, The Teaching Space Extra. It includes access to my free resource library, as well as lots of great reading recommendations and information about productivity, teaching and tech. Hop over to to sign up.