Students’ ability to move past mere comprehension of an assigned reading to thinking critically about the author’s messages is crucial. The Four A’s provides a basic framework for structuring students’ interactions with text. It is particularly fruitful as an assignment to complete while reading and in preparation for class discussions, especially in courses or with groups of students who need prompting and/or a more structured environment in order to have productive discussions.

Step-by-Step Implementation

  1. Each student completes the Four A’s notetaking by dividing a piece of paper into four boxes as described above. 
  2. The student is prompted to note their responses using the categorized label: what they agree with, what they would like to argue against, what they believe the author assumes, and finally what the reading makes them aspire to.
  3. Students’ prepared notes can be leveraged in a number of discussion formats either face-to-face or virtually. For example, the instructor can facilitate discussion by addressing a specific A from the categorization.  In other instances, the instructor might choose specific excerpts from the assigned reading and ask students how or where they categorized the material and why.   


This strategy has been particularly useful with students earlier in their college careers who have been reticent to speak up in whole class discussions or who have struggled with the notion of reading critically.  In several instances, students have reported to me that they continue to use this framework when reading and have put it to use as an organizing principle when writing argumentative or persuasive papers for other courses.