Reading Strategies

How and Why We Read

What You Read Matters More Than You Might Think

Why Read?

. . .  reading is rewarding

. . .  reading builds mature vocabulary

. . .  reading makes you a better writer

. . . reading is hard and "hard" is necessary

. . . reading makes you smarter

. . .  reading prepares you for the world of work

. . .  reading is financially rewarding

. . .  reading opens the door to college, university and beyond

. . .  reading arms you against impression

Gallagher, Kelly.  Teaching Adolescent Writers.  Stenhouse:  Main, 2006. 

The following are practical reading strategies that will support your understanding of text throughout the course, and when reading generally:
Assess Your Level  of Knowledge and Interest in the Topic 
Set Goals for Reading
Sequence Events
List Characters and Understand Characterization
Recall Facts
Recognize Cause and Effect
Practice Active Questioning
Make Inferences
Recognize Persuasive Techniques
Make Connections (text, self, world)
Determine the Main Idea
Articulate the Author's Perspective
Compare and Contrast
Describe Mood
Anaylze Tone
Distinguish Fact and Opinion
Interpret Symbolism
Draw Conclusions
Distinguish Point of View
Analyze Plot Structure
More Effective Reading Tips
  • Don't wait until the last minute; give yourself plenty of time to read your material!
  • Establish an atmosphere conducive to maximum concentration. This will vary depending on personal preferences.
  • Look over materials before delving into them, noting headings, bold-faced words, charts, and summaries. Skim    introductions and conclusions. By previewing materials, you can develop a sense of the overall point(s) it is presenting. This will help put the details into a larger context in which they will make sense.
  • Use the questions at the beginnings or ends of chapters as study guides to help focus your reading.
  • Read everything, including those introductions and conclusions you skimmed.
  • Look up words you don't know.
  • Try one or more of the following methods of note taking (using a combination of approaches will help you begin reviewing):
    • Glossing: after reading a passage or section, summarize the main ideas in your own words. This can be done in a notebook, or in the margins of your book (if you own it).
    • Outlining: using the author's order or your own, write down the key ideas. Use phrases and abbreviations to keep it short. Use whatever system of numbering or lettering you prefer.
    • Synthesizing chart: chart key information when you are trying to pull together information from more than one source. OR, read from a few sources and formulate questions from the main ideas which can be applied to the remaining information.
      • Instead of highlighting or underlining in your text, take notes in the margins or in a separate notebook. This will give you the important information at a glance. (If you take notes in a separate notebook, remember to write the page number on which the information may be found again for later reference.) Improving your reading skills may very well have a positive effect on your writing.

      • Checklist for Reading and Thinking About Literary Texts

        • Have you slowed down and reread complex passages several times?
        • Are you looking up difficult words in the dictionary to see if they have secondary meanings?
        • Are you annotating the text by underlining key phrases?  Writing questions or concerns in the margins?
        • Are you taking your reading to the next level by asking how or why these passages are compelling to you?
        • Are you marking those places in the text that make you feel uncomfortable, or present a worldview that feels strang to you?
        • After you read, are you taking notes so that you keep track of your ideas?
        • Have you identified the genre of the text?  Have you described its style and tone?
        • Have you checked Britannica Online to learn more about the author and his or her cultural context?
        • Have you reflected on your perspective as a twenty-first-century reader, and how that might affect your interpretation of literature from another time period.
        Gardner, Janet E. Writing About Literature. 2nd Edition.  New York:  Bedford St. Martin's ,2009.

        Before Reading Questions
        • What do I want from this text?
        • What is this piece of writing about?
        • Who is the author and who is it intended for?
        • How can this writing help me?
        • What is the author's point of view?
        • How is that view put across?  
        • What effect does this have on me?  How do I feel?
        • How do I respond to it?  With pleasure? anger? sadness? compassion? fear?
        • To what extend to I agree or disagree with the writer?
        • How successful is the writer's technique?


        Reading Strategies

        Dr. Kathleen King

        Many ideas in this handout are from a lecture by Dr. Lee Haugen, former Reading Specialist at the ISU Academic Skills Center

        In K-12  reading, the focus is often on the concrete aspects of the text, the facts, what is easily visible on the page, and writing about reading requires only that you regurgitate basic information.

        Advanced reading, on the other hand, requires meta-cognition, the ability to orchestrate your own learning.  You need to think about how your learning style interacts with the text you are reading, and perhaps change your reading strategies to meet the challenges of that text.

        There are four variables to be considered when learning how to read more successfully: the reader, the text, the strategies, and the goal.  Characteristics of the reader include reading skills, interest in the topic, physical factors such as sleepiness or hunger.  The text varies in type (novel, science, play,psychology, etc.) and difficulty.  Some reading is easy and moves along quickly, while other reading is quite dense and perhaps even tedious, packed with information.  The next factor, strategies employed by the reader, makes all the difference.  The goal of this handout is to give you a larger repertoire of reading strategies, to help you read less and get more out of it.  The final consideration is the purpose.  Why are you reading this text, and what do you want to get out of it?

        Some students are good readers.  Perhaps their parents read to them when they were young, and as adults they read a great deal, read for pleasure, and find reading easy. They instinctively understand how to use reading strategies.  For instance, when reading a newspaper, these students have no difficulty scanning the pages quickly, then slowing down to focus on one interesting article.

        Others are lazy and inattentive about reading, or feel insecure and easily intimidated by complex material.  They have never had to read anything as difficult as their college textbooks and research materials.  Such students have not learned to use a variety of reading strategies, but they think of themselves as dumb rather than untrained.

        Every time you read, you're teaching yourself how to read.  For instance, if you read class materials in bed at night and fall asleep after a few minutes, you're teaching yourself to be uncaring and sleepy when you read.

        Academic reading is not easy.  Part of learning to use reading strategies is to try out new and different ways of reading.  Even professors read, think, write, reread, puzzle over ideas.  No one gets it the first time.  Successful students learn how to read effectively and remember what they read.  You need to learn ways to leap into reading, keep going, finish up, summarize, and connect the new information to other knowledge you have acquired.

        Below is a list of reading strategies to try.   Keep in mind that any three strategies may be enough to make you a better reader.  Experiment with different methods and see what works for you.  The goal is to develop a reading system which will help you in the long term, not just for this class, but for life.



        Reading Strategies

        Read sitting up, with a good light, at a desk or table.

        Keep background noise to a minimum.  Loud music will not make you a better reader.

        The same goes for screaming kids, talking roommates, television or radio.  Give yourself a quiet environment so that you can concentrate on the text.

        Keep paper and pen within reach.

        Before beginning to read, think about the purpose for the reading.  Why has the teacher made this assignment?  What are you supposed to get out of it?  Jot down your thoughts.

        Survey the reading.  Look at the title of the piece, the subheadings.  What is in dark print or stands out?  Are there illustrations or graphs?

        Read the introduction and conclusion, then go back and read the whole assignment.  Or read the first line in every paragraph to get an idea of how the ideas progress, then go back and read from the beginning.

        Scan the entire reading, then focus on the most interesting or relevant parts to read in detail.

        Pay attention to when you can skim and when you need to understand every word.

        Write as you read.  Take notes and talk back to the text.  Explicate (explain in detail) and mark up the pages.  Write down what interests or bores you.  Speculate about why.

        If you get stuck in the reading, think and write about where you got stuck.  Contemplate why that particular place was difficult and how you might break through the block.

        Record and explore your confusion.  Confusion is important because it's the first stage in understanding.

        When the going gets difficult, and you don't understand the reading, slow down and reread  sections.

        Break long assignments into segments.  Read 10 pages, then do something else.  Later, read the next 10 pages and so on.

        Read prefaces and summaries to learn important details about the book.  Look at the table of contents for information about the structure and movement of ideas.  Use the index to look up specific names, places, ideas.

        Translate difficult material into your own words.  Create an alternative text.

        Answer the questions at the end of the chapter.

        Answer these question in your own words: What's the author talking about?  What does the author want me to get out of this?

        Read the entire piece, then write a one paragraph or one sentence summary.

        Transcribe your notes in the book or handwritten notes into more formal notes on the computer.  Turn your first notes into a list of ideas or a short essay.

        Review the ideas in the text after you finish reading.  Ask yourself questions to determine what you got out of the reading.

        Mark up the text, bring it to class, and ask questions about what you don't understand.

        Post an email to the class Mailing List and ask for responses from the teacher and fellow  students.

        Consult another source.  What does another author have to say on the same topic?

        Disagree with the author.  Become a devil's advocate.  Remember, you don't have to believe an idea to argue about it.

        Think about the text in three ways. 

        1. Consider the text itself, the basic information right there on the page.  (This is the level of most high school readers and many college students.) 


        2.  Next think about what is between the lines, the conclusions and inferences the author means  you to draw from the text. 


        3. Finally, go beyond thinking about the text.  What creative, new,  and different thoughts occur as you combine your knowledge and experiences with the ideas in the reading?




        Close Reading

        “Notice, Name, Explain"


        Close reading and Commentary are the fundamental skills of literary criticism.  The close reading process allows you to prepare an informed, intelligent response to a poem or to a prose passage.  The “meaning” you are exploring will come out of your responses to three basic questions:

        1.  What is the piece about?

        2.  What effect on the reader is the author intending?

        3.  How is the intended effect achieved?



        Read the passage(s) a number of times silently and aloud (listening for rhythm, pattern shifts, tone, voice, flow).  Be sensitive to the rhythm and to the language of the piece.  Do this to achieve an understanding of basic meaning and initial overall effect.


        Make general observations abou the piece:

        • What is its form and function?  (prose or verse, fiction or non-fiction, purpose, audience)
        • What is its external visual appearance? (how it “looks” on the page; grammatical units; structure; line breaks; punctuation; obvious divisions; enjambment; etc.)
        • Who is speaking? To whom?  What?  Why?  Where?  When?  How?  Tone?  Tension?  So what?  What about the title? Is the title or a variation of it mentioned anywhere?


        Begin the process of exegesis (critical explanation of a text)

        • With coloured pencils or highlighters consider and identify ALL of the following for each passage.  Do not deal with obvious, surface generalities/ plot.  Move to a deep level of observation, inference and conclusion.  Include direct quotations, parenthetically documented.
        • Images (5types – aural tacticle visual olfactory, taste):  how are they used?  direct or ironic?  dominant? tonal adumbration (outline, foreshadow, symbolize) progressions?  placement?  irony?


        • Motifs:  dominant?  object or idea?  sensory appeal?  progressions:  placement? irony?


        • Structure of the passage:  paragraphing?  transitions?  internal punctuation?  form?  syntax?  sentence/line lengths?  grammatical arrangements of words, phrases and clauses?  prose rhythm?  metrical arrangements? titles?


        • Point of View:  identify; shifts:  voice?  effects of such?  tone? mood?  resulting effects? A character's or narrator's diction raises important question about who is narrating the story.  What is the narrator like?  is he/she reliable or unreliable?  How can we judge? First-person narration is the story told from the perspective of the narrator who speaks in the first person.  Most of the time, first-person narrators use the singular (I, my).  Occaisionaly a narrator uses the first person ;lural (we, our). Third-person point of view- in which the narrator does not appear as a charater in the story is the most common perspective.  Using third-person point of view, a narrator tells a story from the outside referring to the characters as she, he, and they.  A narrator who knows everything, can tell us what the characters are thinking, and can move around in space and time at will is an omniscient narrator.  alternatively, a narrator who chooses to focus on the thought, feelings, and actions of a single character is called a limited omniscient narrator. A less frequently employed pint of view is that of the second person, inwhich the author adresses the action to a character identified as you.


        • Language:  level?  diction?  voice?  literary devices?  figures of speech?  dialogue?  idiom:  local colour?  prescriptive or descriptive?  didactic?  funny “ha-ha” or funny “told you so”? opposition of voices?


        • Irony:    The gap between a character's knowledge and the narrator's/reader's kowledge often creates irony.  There can be many levels of irony at work in stories.  Verbal irony, often in the form of an overstatement is used.  Drmatic irony occurs when the readers know something about the first-person narrator the he/she does not see about him or herself.  All irony hinges on differing levels of knowledge and the author's skillful manipulation of narrative perspective.


        • Theme:   Theme is an underlying idea, a statement that a work makes about its subject. 


        Questions for Exploring Fiction

        1.  What is the tone of the story?  How is the tone established.  Does the tone change with the events of the story or remain fixed?  How does tone contribute to the effect of the story?


        2.  What is the plot of the story?  Does the sequence of events that make up the plot emerge logically from the nature of the characters and circumstances?  Or does the plot rely on coincidence and arbitrary events?


        3.  Who are the principal characters in the story?  Minor characters are often portrayed sketchily, sometimes even as stereotypes.  What functions do the minor characters serve?  Do any characters change during the course of the story?  How and why?


        4.  What is the setting of the story?  Does it play an important role, or is it simply the place and time where things happen?  How would some other setting affect the story?


        5.  From what point of view is the narrator telling the story?  Do you trust him or her?  If a first-person narrator who participates in the action is telling the sotry, what significant changes would occur if the narrator were omniscient?  Keep in mind that first person narrators do not know what other characters think but that omniscient third-person narrators know everything abvout the lives of the characters.


        6.  What is the theme of the story?   All the elements of fiction -- tone, setting, plot , characterization, point of view, irony, imagery -- have been marshaled to project a theme, the moral proposisiton the author wishes to advance.  Does the title reinforce or point to the theme?  Can you locate any particular places int he story where the theme is addressed?


        7.  Do you find ambiguities in the story?  That is, can you interpret some element of the story in more than one way?  does that ambiguity result in confusion, or does it add to the complexity of the story?


        8.  Does the story sem to support or conflict with your own political and moral positions?


        9.  When was the story written?  Draw on your knowledge of history and contemporary events as you read the story.  Does the sotry clarify, enhance, or contradict your understanding of history?


        10.  Can you connect the story to anything else you have red or seen?  To events in your own life?  Does the story clarify or contradict your prior assesments of these other works or events?


        It may be helpful to create a legend for your colour-coding.

        Abcarian, Richard., et al., eds.  Literature The Human Experience: Reading and Writing10th ed.  Boston: