Improving my students’ writing by improving their reading – Amy Shuster, Philosophy

My goal

In my WRI101, I want my students to understand how their writing process begins with reading. Gaining insight into this connection involves denaturalizing how they read and asking them to try out particular reading practices. To do so, I developed an exercise based on Peter Elbow’s believing game and the doubting game with an assigned text in my course. 

The exercise in brief

In the believing game, the reader is trying to project themselves into a writer’s point of view, to try the idea on for size. As the name suggests, the reader intentionally believes everything, and focuses on how the writer is constructing the world of their argument. As a student of political philosophy, I often read in this way. Reading and fully believing one article one week, only to have this view change by believing the next article in the following week.

In the doubting game, the reader seeks to take ownership over the world constructed by a writer by rejecting the grounds of an argument, qualifying an over-generalized argument,  or even expanding upon an excessively modest argument. Elbow thinks trained academics overvalue the skeptical side of the doubting game, and I add that academics undervalue the intellectual work done in qualifying and expanding upon the work of others. 

To better understand these two approaches, I presented the outlines of each “game” and modeled how to do so in short video lectures, then I provided my students with written instructions on how to conduct each game on a Google doc that contained the assigned reading. In the instructions, each student was assigned one or two pages of the reading. After completing their marginal comments on this common document, the students then discussed their findings with a small group during class, were invited to review all the marginal comments outside of class, and finally were asked to write about 100 word reflection on their experience of these two games on a Notebowl discussion board. 


Students uniformly reported positive experiences with this activity.  Some found one game easier to do than the other, and that prompted them to think about how they “normally” read and how they might expand their reading practices so that they can gain a deeper understanding of the world of a particular text. 

In their major formal assignment for this unit, students were asked to identify their own problem, puzzle or question about the assigned text’s topic and offer an argument in response.  This reading activity led many of them to those questions, and/or to some of the claims that they made in the course of presenting their argument. 

Amy L. Shuster
Visiting Assistant Professor