Last week we talked about the many types and aspects of listening. Today we’re going to address a somewhat related topic – reading comprehension.
As with listening, reading has many different parts, and it is a skill; like any skill, you need to practice to get better at it. Children start learning to read with the basics — phonemes, word recognition, and fluency. They learn to sound out words, add new words to their vocabularies, and read through a passage without stopping to decode every letter or syllable. However, if they can’t understand the meaning of what they’re reading, what’s the point? We read to comprehend, to learn, to inform, and to communicate. These are all vital parts of the reading process. And by mastering these parts, children can achieve more than the basics, predicting characters’ actions, gaining insight into new ideas, and relating what’s on the page with what’s happening in their own lives.
So how do you go from basic components to fluid comprehension? We’re going to present some point-by-point suggestions that will help you get on your way.
- Start with a pre-reading survey, also known as “previewing.”
You don’t jump in your car and drive somewhere you’ve never been before without looking at a map or getting detailed instructions, so why should you read an unfamiliar text without knowing anything about it? Previewing gives you a basic overview of what you’re going to encounter on your full read-through. Let’s assume, for the purposes of this post, that you’re going to be reading a textbook. First, read the introduction and then review the table of contents. Next, read each chapter and section heading. Then, look at beginning and ending questions, if there are any. Take note of any tables, graphs, or images. Last, look for bold-faced, italicized, or underlined words and see if there is a glossary that defines them. Keep in mind throughout the whole process that you’re looking for general information about the text, not the specifics.
This list contains a number of the specific things you should look for when previewing, as well as why they’re important:
- Introduction and table of contents. The author will address what he hopes to cover and accomplish with this book. You will get a basic understanding of the progression and scope of the material.
- Chapter title and subtitles. These are introductions to each particular chapter. They will tell you what topic(s) will be covered in that section.
- Focus questions at the beginning of each chapter. Some textbooks contain a list of questions at the beginning of each chapter. These provide specific topics or themes you should keep in mind while reading and indicate what questions you should be able to answer after reading.
- Chapter introductions and first paragraphs. A chapter’s first paragraph usually serves the same purpose as the book’s introduction – it gives you a “preview” of what the following text will be about.
- Bold-faced subheadings. Not all chapters have subheadings, but if they do, you should review them like you do the chapter headings. These will give you the main ideas of each of the sections and help you construct a narrative of the text.
- First sentence of each paragraph. The first sentence of a paragraph usually introduces the main idea of that paragraph, though the main idea can appear anywhere in the text. By linking one main idea to the next to the next in a chain, you can get a good sense of the text’s content and flow.
- Bold-faced, italicized, or underlined words. These are usually new terms introduced in the text. They will be defined in the text and/or in the glossary, if the book has one.
- Visual aids. Aids can be anything from bulleted lists to images, graphs, diagrams, and other visual information. Books tend to include visual aids for the most important points in the text, so, again, you can get a good idea of what you’re going to read by looking at these first. Also be sure to read any captions located beneath the images.
- Last paragraph or chapter summary. Just as the first paragraph gave you an introduction to what the text would be about, the last paragraph summarizes the main points. By reading the first paragraph then the last, you will obtain the most important information and themes included in the body.
- End-of-chapter material. Most textbooks provide review questions or a thought experiment at the end of the chapter. Like the focus questions, these will reveal the most important takeaway points from the body of the text. If you can answer the questions or work through the thought experiment, you will have comprehended the most important ideas from the chapter itself.
- Define your purpose for reading this material.
Before you start to read a text, determine why you need to read it. If it’s just a general-interest article, you don’t need to remember all the details, and you can read through the material quickly. However, if it’s a textbook chapter assigned for class and you’re going to be tested on both the main ideas and the details, you need to do a full preview and read through every word. Knowing what you’re going to be in for allows you to adjust your reading speed, your recognition of what’s essential to read and what is not, and your approach to storing the information for later recall.
- Read the text
Now that you’ve completed all your “pre-reading,” it’s time to read through the text. Read through at your best possible speed for this type of material. Don’t stop your reading for questions, just jot down a note that you have a question, and, when you’re through reading, go back and look for the information to answer it.
- Record information for later recall
Highlighting important theories or facts, or writing notes in the book’s margins, are two key ways of reinforcing the material, especially if you’re a visual or kinesthetic learner, respectively. When you review the material, you’ll know exactly where you’ll need to go to find the information you require to meet your purpose.
- Conduct a post-reading review
After reading, go back to the focus questions at the beginning of the chapter and the survey questions at the end, and see if you can answer all of them adequately. This review will help you 1) know if you’ve understood the material, 2) determine if there are key elements in the text you did not get on the first pass, and 3) reinforce the information in your brain so you’ll be able to bring it up again for later recall.
- Take advantage of assistive technology like AceReader.
AceReader is a reading tool that allows you to learn to read more quickly while still maintaining, or even improving, your reading comprehension. And by presenting information on a variety of subjects, you’ll not only learn to read different types of texts, but you’ll also learn new information about a wide variety of topics in the process. Find out more at www.acereader.com.