Reading assignments can be a strong aid to learning the research questions, kinds of evidence used, reasoning processes, analytical methods, and theoretical approaches in the discipline.
Most students need explicit teaching to understand how to read for argument and rhetoric in a new field, and not just for information.
Often, students are used to reading for content only, and need to be prompted to recognize, question, and analyze these other features of the reading assignments. Their high-school teaching has usually led them to either read word-for-word, and thus to see the text as one long, undifferentiated string of words and sentences, all with equal value, or it has taught them to skim for content—facts, figures, and examples that they can pull out of context and use in their own writing. Neither of these forms of reading is particularly useful or appropriate for preparing to argue with the sources or to write a critically-engaged analysis.
Assignments that ask students to identify claims, explain the reasoning and evidence that supports those claims, and then write a response to a claim, help students to recognize the thought process and the persuasive strategies of the discipline.
These kinds of response assignments can be provided for virtually any assigned reading, from a history text to a science journal article. These response assignments can form the basis for class discussion, and will help students move, in discussion, from questions of what the text says to questions of why and how the text makes an argument, and why and how they find it convincing or unconvincing. In addition, many resources exist for helping students to read specific kinds of texts; some of these [links] may be useful, or a WAC lecturer could help you prepare one specifically for your subject.
Students benefit from discussions about how a text is written, and how it works, as well as from discussions of what it says.
In addition to identifying the main claims, evidence, and reasoning, students can discuss other conventions of texts, such as how the introduction sets up the main research problem, how much background information the text assumes a reader already has, whether key terms are clearly defined or left ambiguous, how well different points or sections connect to each other, what kind of style, diction, and tone the text employs, etc. Placing this discussion in the context of their own writing assignments will help students to understand which conventions are standard in the discipline, which they need to employ in their own writing, and why.