external image under_construction.gifREADER RESPONSE THEORY

(Constructed by Rochelle Berndt.)

Reader Response Theory, simply stated, is the reader's response to literary text. Tyson (2006) describes in Critical Theory Today the five types of Reader Response theories and the differences that lie within each. The following table summarizes each theory, the noted researcher(s) associated with the theory, and provides a basic definition.

Louise Rosenblatt;
Wolfgang Iser

Transactional Reader Response Theory analyzes the transaction between the text and reader. Both are seen as equally important. A reader can take an efferent stance, based on determinant meanings in a text, or an aesthetic stance, based on determinant and indeterminacy of meanings.
Affective Stylistics
Stanley Fish
Affective Stylistics Reader Response Theory examines a text in a "slow motion" format, in which each line is studied in order to determine "how (stylistics) affects (affective) the reader in the process of reading" (Tyson, 2006, p. 175).
David Bleich
Subjective Reader Response Theory believes that the readers' responses are the text, and that all meaning of a text lies in the readers' interpretations.
Norman Holland
Psychological Reader Response Theory znalyzes what the readers' interpretations and responses reveal about the reader, not the text.
Stanley Fish
Social Reader Response Theory believes that readers approach a text with interpretative strategies that are the products of the "interpretive communities" in which they belong.


Louise Rosenblatt
Louise Rosenblatt
Wolfgang Iser
Wolfgang Iser
Stanley Fish
Stanley Fish
David Bleich
David Bleich
Norman Holland
Norman Holland


  • Learn more about Transactional Theorywith further references to Louise Rosenblatt and Wolfgang Iser.
  • Louise Rosenblatt discusses her educational background, dissertation, and publications related to Reader Response Theory in this interview with students from the University of Miami in 1999.
  • View this Power Point presentation, Reader Response Theory Slide Schow, to learn more about Reader Response Theory.
  • Read Ways to Use Writing to learn further about theorists Peter Elbow, Tom Romano, Carol Avery, and Donald Graves. Quotes and references are provided by the theorists as they discuss the uses of writing to clear away distractions, clarify meaning, discover, think deeply, make sense of what is read, and use writing as you deem best.


  • Writing a book review? Reader Response Theory can aid in the writing of this literary work. Read more in An Application of Literacy Theory-Considering Reader Response Theory in the Writing of Book Reviews.
    • Lorinzen states, "The difference between book reviewing and reader response criticism is that book reviews are written for the reader, while reader response criticisms are written about the reader."
  • Use journals in the classroom to engage students in the reading-writing connection of Reader Response Theory. Read Enhancing Engagement in Reader-Response Journals in Secondary English Classroomsby Janet McIntosh. Key quotes from the article include...
    • "Journal entries reveal that students, no matter what their reading skills, make meaning of their reading through writing in journals."
    • "Writing a response journal helps students read a text from an aesthetic stance where engagement with text is often the outcome."


  • Writing Across the Curriculum provides a Reader Response Writing Chart in which students record their prejudices of a piece of writing, as well as their own prejudices based on a text. This strategy is similar to a double-entry journal.
  • Jeffrey Wilhelm's You Gotta BE the Book provides the basis of the lesson plan found in The Dimensions of the Reader's Response.The lesson plan, which is found on the National Writing Project website, outlines various strategies to promote reader response through writing. These strategies include: Teacher Journals, Literacy Letters, Think Aloud Protocols (Free Response, Cues Response, Two-Column Written Response, and Visual Response), and Symbolic Story Representations.
  • ReadWriteThink.org, an affiliation of NCTE, provides numerous lesson plans for practioners. Reader Response in Hypertext-Making Personal Connections to Literatureprovides a detailed plan to engage students in reader response theory through writing. The plan involves students selecting four quotations from a novel that inspire a personal response. The written responses,based on the quotations, include a narrative of place piece, characater sketch, extended metaphor poem, and a persuasive essay. All forms of writing are then published on a website. The detailed plan includes links to planning sheets, self-reflections, and writing rubrics. The lesson plan in divided into 6, 50-minute sessions, geared for high school students.
  • Dressel, J.H. (2005) Personal response and social responsibility: Responses of middle school students to multicultural literature. The Reading Teacher, 58(8), 750-764.
  • Mason, L., Benedak-Wood, E., Valassa, L. (2009/2010). Teaching low-achieving students to self-regulate persuasive quick write responses. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 53(4), 303-312.
    • "Educators can use the quick write strategy to teach low-achieving students how to improve writing about content" Mason, et al., 2009, p. 303)
  • Pace, B. (2006). Between response and interpretation: Ideological becoming and literacy events in critical readings of literature. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 49(7), 584-594.
  • Duke, N., Purcell-Gales, V., Hall, L., & Tower, C. (2006/2007). Authentic literacy activities for developing comprehension and writing. The Reading Teacher, 60(4), 344-355.
  • Glenn, W. (2007). Real writers as aware readers: Writing creatively as a means to develop reading skills. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 51(1), 10-20.
  • Wilson, A. (2008). Motivating young writers through write-talks: Real writers, real audiences, real purpose. The Reading Teacher, 61(6), 485-487.S
  • Smith, C. H. (2010). "Diving in deeper": Bringing basic writers' thinking to the surface. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 53(8), 668-676.
    • "When basic writing students are encouraged to value their thinking as they revise their prose, they are likely to become more constructive critical thinkers and less fearful performers of academic tasks" (Smith, 2010, p. 668).


  • Inky Ponderences is the title of a blog that contains a posting about reader response theory. The author provides a succinct historical background of the theory.
  • Erractic Pulse is the title of another blog that discusses reader response theory in detail. Feel free to visit these blogs and join the conversation.


  • Reader Response Meets New Literacies-Empowering Readers in Online Learning Communities shares Larson's research study of fifth grade students and their response to literature using online journals and message boards. Students chose to read e-book versions of either Bud, Not Buddy or The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1968 by Christopher Paul Curtis. Responses were coded for the ten students who comprised the focus groups, based on Hancock's "Teacher-Constructed Literature Response Prompts" (experiential, aesthetic, cognitive, and interpretive). A fifth category, clarification, was added by the author. "The asynchronous online message board format provided students equitable opportunities to share their thoughts and voice their opinions about a book" (Larson, 2009, p. 647).
  • Larson continues her research findings in Digitial Literacies-e-Reading and e-Responding: New Tools for the Next Generation of Readers.This article contains further explanations of e-books and the appeal of their multimodal features (i.e. video, audio, and hyperlinks) which enable students to physically interact with the text.
  • Whitin, P. (2009). "Tech-to-stretch": Expanding possibilities for literature responses. The Reading Teacher, 62(5), 408-418.
    • "Incorporating multimodal response strategies into everyday literacy instruction builds comprehension while giving learners purposeful experience in using these modalities" (Whitin, 2009, p. 408).
  • Smolin, L.I. & Lawless, K.A.(2003). Becoming literate in the technological age: New Responsibilities and tools for teachers. The Reading Teacher, 56(6), 570-577.
  • Zawilinski, L. (2009). HOT blogging: A framework for blogging to promote higher order thinking. The Reading Teacher, 62(8), 650-661.
  • Davis, A. & McGrail, E. (2009). "Proof-revising" with podcasting: Keeping readers in mind as students listen to and rethink their writing. The Reading Teacher, 62(6), 522-529.
  • Witte, S. (2007). "That's online writing, not boring school writing": Writing with blogs and the talkback project. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 51(2), 92-96.
  • Kajder, S. & Bull, G. (2003). Scaffolding for struggling students: Reading and writing with blogs. Learning & Leading with Technology, 31(2), 32-35.

  • Allen, C. & Swistak, L. (2004). Multigenre research: The power of choice and interpretation. Language Arts, 81(3), 223-232
  • Gillespie, J. (2005). "It would be fun to do again": Multigenre resonses to literature. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 48(8), 678-684.
  • Romano, T. (2007). The many ways of multigenre. In T. Newkirk & R. Kent (Eds.), Teaching the neglected "R": Rethinking writing instruction in secondary classrooms (87-102). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
  • Rush, L. (2009). Developing a story of theory and practice: Multigenre writing in English teacher education. The Teacher Educator, 44, 204-216.


  • E-Journals: Collaborating to Enhance Teaching and Learning about Literature was a descriptive study in which preservice teachers enrolled in a literacy methods course were paired with fifth grade students for online discussions of Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis. The electronic dialogue journal enties of both preservice and fifth grade students were analyzed and coded. All questions were classified as text implicit, text explicit, or experience based. All comments were classified in the following categories, developled by Hancock (1993): Monitoring understanding, making inferences, making predictions, expressing wonder or confusion, character identification, character assessment, story involvement, and literary criticism. Our research was presented at the College Reasing Association conference in October, 2006. (Presenters: Dr. Naomi Feldman & Ms. Rochelle Berndt)
  • Exploring and Extending Personal Response Through Literature Journals by Marjorie Hancock, served as the basis of our coding categories.
  • Faculty to Faculty Collaborations and Student to Student Mentoring: Pre-service and In-Service Teachers Using Electronic Journals to Dialogue about the Foundations of Literacy Instruction was a collaborative project developed by an adjunct and full-time faculty member and completed by undergraduate pre-service and in-service teachers enrolled in their respective literacy courses at Baldwin-Wallace College in the fall 2009 semester. The instructors of the literacy courses established critical colleague pairings between the pre-service and in-service teachers. The critical colleagues were expected to read and respond to professional journal articles. They were then required to dialogue via electronic journal with ther assigned partner. The findings of this study, which included an analysis of the dialogue, types of responses, and the mentoring relationships established between the participants, were presented at the Ohio Confederation of Teacher Education Organizations conference in April, 2010. (Presenters: Ms. Rochelle Berndt & Dr. Lisa Henderson)

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