Critical Inquiry refers to a set of active reading strategies that compel academically at-risk students to preview texts, take layers of notes from those texts, and formulate questions from their notes. Students are trained to think of the act of reading as an activity that requires multiple drafts in much the same way that they are trained to write multiple drafts of an essay.
The initial brainstorming stage asks students to take a few minutes to preview, set the context for the piece, look at captions and headings and note any names, and boldface terms or use other editorial or rhetorical devises that will help them manage their reading task. Students are taught to mark divisions within the text to set limits on how much and what parts there are to read. The second reading, the first draft, should be slower, closer and always done with a pen, pencil or Post-It in hand. Students are discouraged from using highlighters because too often they color blocks of text without making any comment about why that piece of text is significant.
As students read, they are asked to mark words and phrases, ideas, definitions, events and repetitions that they think are important, interesting or inconsistent. Students are never given a set of introductory vocabulary because each reader brings his or her own language experience to the task. From the students' individual annotations, questions for explanation, discussion, assessment or future writing assignments are generated. Students have more access to explicit references to text and are more apt to write elaborated discussions of texts when they can point to specific passages. Annotations and student generated questions direct instructors to clarify or modify text choices for the group. Once students have internalized Critical Inquiry as a reading and study strategy, they are better prepared as independent learners and as competent readers and writers.