Practicing the strategies described below should expand your skills as a reader and the ways you think about reading. The primary goal of this handout is to help students become active, thinking readers who have a rich repertoire of strategies for dealing with and comprehending even the most demanding texts.
1. Mumbling. While you are reading, actually voice the words, speaking clearly enough that you can just hear the
words you are reading to yourself. Give some inflection to your voice so you are not reading everything in a monotone, but keep your voice relatively quiet. Do not read with a full, loud voice. It is probably best to try this strategy in some location where your mumbling will not bother others. [Keep in mind that silent reading of texts is a fairly recent development. Prior to the 15th century, very few people read silently. If you visited a medieval monastery, for example, you would have found all of the monks mumbling the words while reading. The assumption was that to read, you needed to hear the words--and so nearly all reading was done aloud.]
2. Underlining Key Words/Rereading. This strategy depends upon you planning to read a piece two times. The first time through the text, try to maintain a smooth, even reading tempo. But keep a pencil handy, and underline or put a check in the margins for identifying what you suspect are key words in the piece or new words that you don't recognize. After you finish, go back through the text. Think about the significance of the key words or marked phrases. Look up unfamiliar words and write the appropriate definitions in the margins. Now reread the piece, focusing your attention on details and insights unnoticed during the first reading.
3. Start with the Conclusion. Read the conclusion of the text first. You can decide how much of the conclusion you want to read, but select a long enough passage so you can gain some idea of what is happening. If you choose a ten-page essay, you might read the last 3-4 paragraphs; if a two-page poem, perhaps the last 20-25 lines. After you've read the conclusion, go to the beginning and read the piece all the way through. While reading, keep in mind what you know about the conclusion and consider how the pieces of text you are reading might somehow prepare the reader for that ending.
4. Kinesthetic Reading. Most of the time when we are reading, we are sitting down or lying on a bed or scrunched up on a sofa. For this reading strategy, you need to be up and about. This exercise would probably work best with a fairly short passage, no more than 3-4 pages. While reading, read with your entire body. Feel the words in your body. Allow yourself to move around, to walk, to pace, even to dance. Think of the words as instructions for dancing. Use your body movements as a way to interpret the text or to give emphasis to key moments.
5. Reading on a Walk. Take your book and go for a walk (this is a strategy that works better in June than in January). During the walk, stop a few times and read from your text. Then continue walking. Or you can go for a walk, find a nice cozy bench or swing, and read the entire text in one sitting. But periodically refresh yourself. Stop looking at the words and enjoy the spring flowers or fall leaves, the squirrels planting acorns, the clouds above the trees. Relax and read some more.
6. Stopping at Pre-determined Reflection Points. Before starting the text, mark one or more points in the text where you will stop and reflect on what you have read so far. When you reach a reflection point, stop and think about what you have encountered. Do some quick review, skimming through the portions you have read to remind yourself of details or key points you may have forgotten. In the margins write some brief notes to summarize what you have so far. Then continue to the next reflection point.
7. Visualizing Yourself as a Reader. We often allow negative thoughts and mental baggage to interfere with our comprehension of a text. It's difficult to enjoy playing basketball if you are constantly telling yourself how you hate basketball and how lousy you are as a player. Maybe by the standards of Michael Jordan you are not a great basketball player, but we don't have to be the best in order to gain value from what we are doing. When a task is at hand, just do the task. That doing can be helped if you visualize yourself succeeding at this task. Reading can be helped by an ability to see yourself as a reader. Before you begin reading a text, create a mental picture of yourself reading the piece. See yourself as a confident reader, someone who knows how to handle difficult challenges. No need to be cocky, just a sense that you can handle this text. And then start reading. And when your concentration drops or various kinds of interference interrupt your thoughts, stop reading, focus on the interference for a moment, tell it to go away, wipe it from the mind, and return to the text, again seeing yourself as the reader.
8. Reading Inductively/Deductively. To read inductively is to move from specifics to generalizations, to use details and examples for creating conclusions, to discover the thesis of the text, the controlling ideas. To read deductively is to begin with generalizations, the thesis, the main point(s) and then to read for purposes of acquiring evidence to test the thesis, determining its accuracy or appropriateness. As a simple rule of thumb, we begin new texts by reading inductively, using the text to give us clues on grasping the text's messages. At some point we construct a hypothesis for telling ourselves what this essay or story or poem or book chapter is about. That hypothesis may come as soon as we read the title; it may come when we finish reading the first paragraph or the first page or when we finish the text--or perhaps such an insight never arrives. But usually at some moment in the text there will be a shift in our reading: we grasp the author's message and then our reading process shifts, taking in new data from the text and plugging that new information into the schema or plan that the mind has created for this text (a creation based on discoveries while reading). With this inductive/deductive model in mind, try reading an unfamiliar text. As you are reading, occasionally think about which kind of reading you are doing: inductive or deductive?
9. The Special Reading Place. Find somewhere new to read, somewhere you have never previously spent any time, some place that is quiet and secluded, free of any likely interruptions. There are several rarely used areas in the library, many classrooms at night that have no one in them. Or perhaps you want to find a noisy place that is so filled with noise that you can block out the distractions. You might also consider a few places off campus; Wendy's could be a great place to go for a drink, a few fries or a caesar salad (for the health conscious types), and virtually no one to bother you. Once you are settled, pull out the book and start reading. And then return to this same place on at least two more occasions; and be precise about where you sit--not just in the PUB but the same chair at the same table. Wherever you choose, do nothing here but read. No other studying allowed. No stereo music. No distractions. Nothing but reading. See if the place begins to invite reading, that once you enter this space, you assume the reader's frame of mind. Can we become better readers by changing our environment?
10. Reading Aloud to Someone. This is another strategy that will probably work best with a short piece or an excerpt from a longer piece; it also depends on going through a text two times. You need a reading partner, someone willing to listen to you read and talk with you about the piece. Partners can be roommates, friends, other students in the same class, Writing Center consultants (who are paid to do this stuff).
11. Someone Reading Aloud to You. Same process as above, except this time your partner reads the text aloud to you. All the other aspects of the strategy remain the same, including the conversation after the reading is done.
12. Skimming/Reading. Take a few minutes to skim through the text. While skimming, look for repeated names of people, names of organizations, recurrent words or phrases that might be important. When you are done with your skimming, spend a few moments guessing what is covered in this piece. What have you learned so far and what are you expecting to find when you read the complete text? Once you have thought about the text, read it straight through, tracking how your reading corrects or modifies or completes your initial impression. Focus on the new information you are acquiring and how this fits with what you learned from skimming.
13. Marginal Notes: Talking with the Text. While reading, jot down notes about the text in the white space around the text. The nature of the marginal notes are up to you. Notes can be summaries of important ideas, comments on ideas, brief quotes of interesting or puzzling passages, insights or responses or ideas you have while reading, etc.
14. Annotating a Text. This is a technique for marking a text so the structure and main points or illustrations are highlighted. A reader can develop a personalized annotation system unique to the persona's individual reading habits. Here are a few annotation techniques that might prove beneficial:
Whatever annotation system you devise, it's a good idea to keep it simple and flexible.