Ongoing engagement

Collaborative Literature Review Matrix

Create a discourse community whilst also sharpening close reading, research, summarising, paraphrasing, and citation skills.

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Collaborative Literature Review Matrix
Educator prep: None
Student prep: None
Shared online space
Duration: Variable

Activity purpose

Create a discourse community whilst also sharpening close reading, research, summarizing, paraphrasing, and citation skills.

Useful for

Preparation ahead of a class discussion about a certain topic when several readings have been assigned. Preparation ahead of a class discussion about a specific topic when students need to conduct their own research to select articles/sources. Preparation ahead of students writing a literature review as part of a research proposal or research paper.

Sharpens close reading, research, summarizing, paraphrasing, and citation skills.

Encourages content mastery.


Setting up a shared editable Google Doc or a Wiki within your LMS.

Adding a literature review matrix table (see below as an example).

Main idea/argument 1 [enter quote or paraphrase] [enter quote or paraphrase] [enter quote or paraphrase] [enter quote or paraphrase]
Main idea/argument 2        
Main idea/argument 3        
Main idea/argument 4        


Post preparation, make it clear how you’d like each student to contribute to the literature review matrix.

E.g. 1 entry in total or 1 entry per assigned article or multiple entries from an article they found about the topic through their individual research.


This is an asynchronous activity. It can run for as long as you need it to run.

Adaptations and examples

  • Can be done synchronously during a class session.
  • Microsoft Word online and any other tool that lets multiple people work on the same document.

Here is an example of a Literature Matrix that was created and shared by Roberta Kjesrud. Please see below for Roberta's explanation of the thinking behind this:

Scaffolding Synthesis: Rationale for an Advanced Literature Review Matrix, by Roberta Kjesrud

Since literature reviews are a common research-based writing assignment in upper division writing courses at Western Washington University, I have been supporting students writing them for nearly 30 years. Especially since these assignments (and the accompanying reading-research burden) are so intimidating, I really love Jasmina Najjar’s collaborative literature review matrix to scaffold students in collaboratively understanding and summarizing sources. I love the idea of using this tool as a kind of jigsaw to add deeper comprehension to dense texts; further, a collaborative approach allows students a low-risk way to use their voices in interpreting research.

I think there are additional ways we can build out a matrix to scaffold students in doing the high-level analysis, evaluation, and synthesis expected in literature reviews. Many faculty think that assigning an annotated bibliography can act as an interim scaffold, but other than adding accountability for research/reading progress, I don’t think faculty find it acts to scaffold literature reviews that meet their expectations. Faculty are often dismayed when students cobble those annotation paragraphs together into an elaborate summary I call “The Shopping List”: Source A says X, Source B says Y, Source C says Z. The Shopping List paper is woefully devoid of the critical analysis/synthesis moves that faculty want to promote.

Over the years, I’ve wondered what it would take to move students more from a discrete Shopping List to a synthesized Path of Claims. I’ve become convinced of two gaps: a lack of knowing that they have agency (as a student, who am I to forward or counter the experts?) and a lack of knowing how to make thinking and writing moves across Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy. Students seem most comfortable with two moves, the kind they might make in discussing a movie they just saw: “I just saw a movie that X (plot summary), and it was awful (judgment without evaluation).”

Although students are practiced in summary and judgment, these moves aren’t ideal for literature reviews. So I’ve developed a tool intended to scaffold students in analysis, evaluation (with evidence), and synthesis. Hopefully in working through this tool, students can go beyond descriptive statements of each individual source to a more collective birds-eye view of what a body of literature is telling scholars about what we know/don’t know about a line of inquiry. My goal in using this matrix tool (still a work in progress!) is to help students realize they have valuable perspectives to offer and to demonstrate—show, not tell—how to practice moving beyond summary into a full continuum of thinking and writing moves, thus equipping them for success as professionals and as lifelong learners.

Technical requirements


Useful resources

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