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Cultivating Reading Skill
Becoming a better reader takes some effort. But reading is such an important skill that everyone needs to learn how to do it well at some point. Putting in the time and work now to learn how to read well and comprehend what you read will save you energy and frustration later on. This list of reading strategies can be put into practice before you begin to read, while you are reading, and after you’ve finished.
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Before You Start Reading
Good reading starts before you even open a book or read a sentence. Like with so many things in life, careful preparation and up-front work make the act of reading much smoother and simpler. The kinds of strategies you use before you really get down to the reading itself are often called pre-reading strategies.
Find a quiet place: Good reading takes concentration, and is hard to do in a place that is noisy or not private. Find an area where you won’t be disturbed to do your reading. If there isn’t a place like that in your school or home, try the library or even reading outside.
Think it through: Look at the book or article you will be reading, and think seriously about it. What is the topic? What do you already know about that topic, and what would you like to learn? This helps you get in the right frame of mind to read and tells your brain to start focusing on the right topic and subject.
Scan the headings: Take a look at the title of what you’ll be reading. Flip through and look at the chapter titles and headings and subheadings (unless you are reading fiction, of course). Get a feel for how the work is organized and what it covers, so there won’t be any surprises.
Predict: This strategy actually belongs in both this section and the next one. Before you read, try predicting what kind of information you’ll find. Then while you are reading, pay attention to see if what you find agrees with your expectations. And keep making predictions about what’s coming up next. This keeps your mind focused and engaged.
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While You’re Reading
It is important, especially for those who wish to improve their reading skills, not to just passively read. Instead, try reading actively, using critical reading strategies. These involve keeping your mind and often your hands busy, because if you are predicting what’s coming next and taking notes you avoid the temptation to mentally check out and just skim the words half-heartedly. And you’ll come away with a deeper understanding for and appreciation of what you’ve read.
Read more than once: Sometimes it is best to read challenging material a few times, giving it the chance to really sink in. Reading a book or section twice makes it far easier to remember as well. Try scanning first and then reading carefully, or reading carefully the first time and then scanning through again just for main ideas.
Ask questions: Do this constantly while you’re reading. Possible questions include not just “what’s coming next" but also “what is the author really trying to say," “what is the main idea in this section," and “do I really understand what I’m reading?" And answer those questions before you read any further.
Take notes: Many people think better with a pencil in their hand, and even if you don’t it is still a way to keep your mind engaged and active. Highlighting, underlining, and writing down information forces your mind to think about what you’ve read more than once, as well as helping you pick out the really important parts. If you like formal organization, try using a method like graphic organizers or reading logs.
Pay attention to organization: In a textbook or story or article, every sentence and paragraph is connected to every other sentence and paragraph. Sections and chapters and scenes are organized in certain ways for a reason. Paying close attention to the organization of a text helps you figure out things like how all the different parts are connected and what the main ideas are, as well as what the writer was trying to accomplish.
Reading aloud and socially: Reading doesn’t have to be a solitary, silent act. Reading out loud to yourself can make the words and ideas clearer, and so can reading in a pair or group. Two people have a much better chance of understanding difficult sections than one person alone, and reading socially is more fun and less of a chore.
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After You’ve Finished Reading
If you want to understand and retain what you’ve read, it is best to spend some time with the text even after your first or second read-through is done. Think of this as studying time—using these strategies right away or soon after reading means you won’t have to spend as much time reviewing the material later on.
Pick out the main ideas: This is something you should have been paying attention to while you read anyway, so once you’re done try to make a list of all the most important ideas and concepts. Think about just what the author was trying to communicate.
Write a summary: Like picking out the main ideas, writing a summary forces you to think about which parts of what you read were most important. Try to make the summary as short as possible, just hitting the highlights of the piece and explaining how it all fits together.
Consider the relationships: Whether you’re reading history, science, or a novel, there are always relationships within a piece of writing such as cause and effect and problem and solution. Try to understand how these written relationships work.
Learn about context: Your teacher may provide contextual materials, but if not try to learn a little on your own. Who is the author, and what else has he or she written? What is the author’s background? Are there any issues in what you read that are controversial and/or debated?
Use visual aids: If you learn well by seeing information, as most people do, try organizing what you’ve read in a more visual way. For example, you could create a flowchart or Venn diagram of ideas.
Games: In the classroom or with study partners, it can be helpful to come up with reading comprehension games. You can review the reading and get others’ input, while having fun at the same time.
Connecting to real life: We remember things that are meaningful, so one of the best ways to really make information stick is to relate it to your own life. While you’re reading and after you are finished, be alert for ways the text reminds you of your life and experiences you have had.