Meta Cognitive Reading Strategies

Research indicates that learners are more likely to use meta cognitive strategies when reading online (Azmuddin, Nor, and Hamat, 2017). Cognitive strategies, like rereading difficult sections, adjusting reading speed, or making predictions, are controlled by meta cognitive strategies, such as setting a purpose for reading, previewing the text, and making predictions.

Meta cognitive reading strategies help readers become more active consumers of information. Some meta cognitive reading strategies learners might rely on could be:

  • Thinking about their purpose for reading, and scanning the text, looking for information that suits their purpose;
  • Deciding within seconds whether the source is worth their time to read;
  • Spending most of their time “above the fold” or at the top screenful of content (Fessenden 2018);
  • Scanning a text over in an F shaped pattern, looking for headings, numbers, dates, bolded keywords, and text that jumps out at them.
  • Spending more time assessing the value of visual content like video, audio or graphics;

The following tips aim at providing teaching strategies and approaches that will support the use of metacognitive reading strategies among learners.

Prime for Reading

Before you start an engine, you prime it by pumping a little fuel into the engine. We need to do the same for our brains. Create tasks that ask students to prime their thinking on a topic before reading about it.

optimus prime
No, not Optimus Prime! Prime, like a motor.
“A Bunch Of Different Prime” by Pete Slater is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0 

To guide reading, create a discussion posting or interactive object in your course that prompts students to answer a few of these sample questions (or variations on them):

  • What do you already know about this topic? Fill out the first two columns of a KWL Chart before reading, then revisit after you have read the chapter.
  • What is something you have read before about this topic? Link to it for your peers to read over.
  • Brainstorm about this topic, using drawing tools in a Word document, Visio or a free brainstorming app like MindMeister, Lucid Charts or Mindomo. Write down or draw everything you know about it, then organize it by collecting similar thoughts together. What trends or patterns do you notice? What gaps exist?

Connect and Compare

There is demonstrable value to asking students to consult a variety of resources. Students who use more online information sources compose better written work than those who rely on primary resources (Kiili and Leu, 2019).

Due to the sheer abundance and variety of content online, it’s beneficial to construct learning activities that require students to go online and do further research. However, not all sources are created alike, and its often advisable to incorporate activities that ask learners to vet a source into any researching or reading task.

Activities can ask learners to:

  • Ascertain the validity of an online source of information, based on criteria like impartiality, reliability, date of publication, author publication history (a quick Google search away) and more as is relevant to a discipline;
  • Compare two sources of research/information and evaluate the reliability or validity of each, recommending only one source to peers;
  • Determine the usefulness or applicability of an online app or site based on user reviews and other impartial criteria.

Practice Synthesis of Information

While priming and establishing prior knowledge is beneficial for reading individual texts, this strategy is even more important when considering more than one source of information. Activating prior knowledge can support learners comprehension of both text specific and cross-text synthesis, as it informs their inferences and development of opinions (Barzilai and Stromso, 2018). But synthesizing multiple information sources is a challenging task, and students may not yet have adequate strategies in place by post-secondary education to successfully accomplish this even with print texts, much less when layering digital texts and their unique tool sets (Kiili and Leu, 2019).

Try tasks that require some accountability and scaffolding of information synthesis, such as:

  • reinforcing and practicing behaviours that prime prior learning across learning activities;
  • starting by synthesizing ideas from two articles or texts, particularly two which may have complementary ideas;
  • incorporating contrasting points of view, or conflicting research on the topic;
  • requiring a lit review of a limited set of articles related to a research topic, where the articles are summarized;
  • allowing for paired tasks, so that learners can discuss, share ideas and engage in conversation about how best to combine multiple sources.


Azmuddin RA, Nor NFM, Hamat A. (2017). Metacognitive Online Reading and Navigational Strategies by Science and Technology University Students. GEMA Online Journal of Language Studies. 17(3):18-36. doi:10.17576/gema-2017-1703-02.

S. Barzilai, H.I. Strømsø (2018) Individual differences in multiple document comprehension J. L. G. Braasch, I. Bråten, M.T.  McCrudden (Eds.), Handbook of multiple source use, Routledge, New York, NY (2018), pp. 99-116.

Kiili C, Leu DJ. (2019) Exploring the collaborative synthesis of information during online reading. Computers in Human Behavior. 95:146-157. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2019.01.033.

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