Critical thinking is at the heart of tertiary education, and is also a key focus of university preparation courses. In particular, developing the ability to read − and to read critically – is vital for aspiring university students. Courses in English for Academic Purposes (EAP) generally include some attention to critical reading, but how this is conceived and realised varies considerably. This paper reports on the findings of an ethnographic study of three EAP teaching-learning contexts in Australia and relates the pedagogy of these classrooms to theories of critical thinking identified by Davies and Barnett (2015). All three EAP contexts focused to some extent on cognitive skills such as identifying main ideas, but teachers differed in their approach to criticality and attention to critical pedagogy. In some classes, students appeared to take a performative role (simply ‘doing’ the task); however, in other classes students demonstrated a more intense engagement with the content of their reading – an indication of a developing critical disposition which could serve them well at university and beyond. The paper argues that critical reading pedagogy can be realised in different ways, but that nurturing students’ critical dispositions, in particular, requires delicate scaffolding to support their development as critical meaning-makers. Such scaffolding pushes students to develop deeper skills and criticality, yet enables them to feel secure in the transcultural contact zones in which they are participating.