Okay, let me join the borg: I am not sure who taught me this trick, but it works very well on a lot of levels. So, here goes: when I teach undergraduates I ask the students to pose a question about the assigned reading and submit either to me or to Blackboard before class. The first sentence of this assignment MUST be a question about the text. In the remainder of the paragraph-long-assignment (so about 150 words) the student should motivate the question with references to or analysis of the text. THE QUESTION SHOULD NOT BE ANSWERED. (During class discussion I often turn to these questions.) After class, I comment and 'grade' these assignments. (In fact, during the first few weeks of a course I put a lot of work into this.) But if the infrastructure is available, I let students answer at least one question by another student (again with detailed references to the text) after class discussion. These answers can generate list/blog discussions among the students. (I generally don't get involved, but I prescribe some politeness rules and monitor the discussion carefully.)
There are four benefits to this assignment: 1. Students are prepared for class. (I often am tempted to use this assignment on my grad students!) Since I have used it I have had much more enjoyable class experience. 2. They learn how to read critically (because they must find a question in the text--I don't allow obviously rhetorical questions). 3. They start to learn how to ask questions, which is a (valuable?) skill that can be taught, but not easy to master at first. (Students are much better at giving answers.) 4. It creates intellectual community among the students (who end up doing a lot of the teaching to each other).