Reading & Writing to React

Reading to React

Reacting is one of the most basic ways to think critically about a text.  Reacting:

  1. narrows in on your personal thoughts about the text’s ideas,
  2. widens out from the text into the realm of your experience, and
  3. links your thoughts about the text with your personal experience.

When you react, you combine your personal experience with the text’s information by bringing your own experience to the text. (Reacting is the opposite of applying— when you react, you bring your own experience to the text; when you apply, you bring the text to your own experience.)

You may ask and answer the following questions when you react to ideas in a text; you’ll see from the list below that reaction questions help you consider and reflect on your personal experience of a text through a lot of why and what questions:

Narrow Questions about the Text

Wide Questions about your Experience Reading the Text

Questions Linking the Text with your Personal Experience

What is the author’s main idea and purpose? Was the reading difficult or easy for you and why? Did you like or dislike reading the text and why? Do you agree or disagree with the author’s main idea and why?
What text characteristics stood out to you and why? (e.g., author’s content, structure, tone) Did you find any useful information in the text?  If so, what, and why is it useful to you? Do you agree or disagree with some of the ideas, information, examples in the text? Why?
What types of evidence does the author use? Are these types appropriate?  Why or why not?  What other evidence would you recommend and why? Can you relate ideas or examples in the text to your own experience?  If so, what experiences, and how do they relate? What parts of the text provoked some response in you as you read, and immediately after you read?  Why?
Does the author make any assumptions?  If so, what are they, and are they valid assumptions? Would you recommend this text to others?  Why or why not? If you had written this text, what would you have done differently and why?
Did the text change your own thinking about the topic in any way?  How?

As you can see from the questions above, reacting not only focuses on your own thoughts and response to the content of a text, but also focuses on the reasons why you think that way.

What do you do with the answers to these types of questions? Use them selectively to formulate an insight or assertion about the text.  You then develop and support that assertion with both evidence from the text itself as well as your reaction to and experience of that text.

For example, in reaction to a New York Times article by Ellen Langer, “How Our Beliefs Can Shape Our Waistlines,” you might formulate the following insight: What you think about reality often shapes your reality. You could summarize Langer’s research findings and then offer your own reaction to those findings.  For example, was her experiment rigorous?  Would you have liked more information about additional experiments in the area of brain science and positive thinking to support Langer’s? Have you experienced similar results yourself or observed them in others? What were the occasions of these experiences, and were the results similar to or different than Langer’s results? As you can see, when you read in order to react, you bring your personal experience to the text.

Here’s another way of explaining how to work with reaction questions and answers, quoted from Bucks County Community College’s handout on The Summary and Reaction. [1]

“Making Sense of It:

  1. Identify the question that provoked the strongest response from you. What from the reading made you feel this way? What from the reading might support your opinion?
  2. Are there any other responses that seem somehow related to the first? Can you draw connections between your answers? Can you support these [insights] with information from the text? From your life? From another source?
  3. Can you think of examples you have read about, heard about, seen, lived, experienced to support your [insight]?
  4. How did you arrive at this conclusion [at your main insight or assertion]?”

Writing to React

Writing to react involves more than just stating a surface opinion about a text; it’s more than “I liked/did not like it.” When your purpose is to react to a text, you need to show that you’ve thought carefully about concepts and information in a text, and related concepts and information to your experience.  You then develop a new idea or insight based on your thoughts and personal experience. You may react to the text’s main idea, or a supporting idea–the whole text or part of the text.  And that part may be a portion of the text’s content, as well as structure, language, or tone.  What you react to is what resonates the most with your own personal experience.

Writing to react is often called “Summary-Response” writing because it usually involves those two parts:

  1. summarizing the text’s main ideas, to set the context for your reader by explaining what you’re reacting to
  2. reacting to that text, which includes both your reaction to the quality of the text itself as well as personal experience that can support and further explain your reaction

Reactions can take many forms:

  • analyzing the author’s evidence, conclusions, or examples, comparing them to your own experience
  • evaluating the importance of the information in the text–how it changed your thinking, and how it might benefit others
  • responding to the author’s language and tone and how they influenced your experience reading the text
  • and more…

Reactions can also be written based on multiple texts on a related topic or issue.  When writing about multiple texts, you may want to ask how they relate to one another in terms of ideas and approach.  Do they offer different perspectives on an issue? Do they agree and support one another’s conclusions? Do they contradict one another? How do they collectively help you understand a concept or issue?

You may want to read the following handouts for additional information about writing to react:

The video below offers an excellent discussion of writing to react.

try it

Based on your reading of “Getting All Your Ducklings in a Row: A Look Inside the Animal Mind,” write one or two sentences offering an insight based on your reaction to the article, that could serve as a main idea to develop in a reaction/response essay.


[1] The Summary and Reaction. Bucks County Community College Tutoring Center.