Improve Your Reading Skills: Ten Approaches to Reading

Most of us read Facebook-updates, Snapchats and emails almost every day. These texts are usually short and easy to understand. They inform us about the lives and loves of our friends and family, and they often contain entertaining pictures and videos.

Most of the texts we read at school are factual texts, and they are likely to be more complex and more difficult to understand. At school you also read fiction, and you are frequently asked to give an in-depth analysis of characters and themes. Knowing various strategies and approaches to reading will help you work more efficiently and enable you to understand and remember complex texts better. Moreover, reading strategies will also help you form your own opinion about a topic.

To help you along with your reading, here are ten suggested approaches:

1 Prepare for reading
Spend two minutes looking at the different elements on the pages, such as headlines, pictures, introduction, key words and conclusion. By doing this, you prepare your mind for what you are about to read.

2 Become a star reader
Draw a five point star. In the middle of the star, write down the name of the main character in the story you are reading. At point one you write “hears” and at point two you write “says”. At the other points you write “thinks”, “tastes or smells” and “does”. As you are reading the short story, you write down some information about the character at each point.

3 The first sentence
If you are reading a factual text, read the first sentence in the paragraph three times. Very often, the first sentence functions as a headline for the entire paragraph. If you understand the first sentence, it is so much easier to understand the rest of the paragraph.

4 Boxed in
Before reading a short story, draw five or six boxes. While reading, extract five or six significant events. Write a sentence or two in each box, or alternatively, make a simple drawing.

5 The “look away method”
When you have read a paragraph or two, look away from the text and sum up the most significant aspects in three or four phrases.

6 Vocabulary
Always try to memorize some of the best phrases in the text. It is often better to remember a phrase instead of just one word. If you want to memorize the noun prejudice, try to identify adjectives or verbs that often go together with prejudice. If you use the online website Online Oxford Collocation Dictionary, the site will suggest phrases like deep-rooted prejudice and to have prejudice.

7 Think like a journalist
It is very useful to have questions words like who, where, when, what, why and how in the back of your mind when reading both fictional and factual texts. For example, when reading fiction, ask yourself questions like

  • Who are the main characters?
  • Where and when is the novel set?
  • What are the most significant events in the novel?
  • Why are the characters so miserable?
  • How will the various events affect the characters?

These question words will help you extract the most important elements from the text.

8 Note taking
Try the structured note-taking system Cornell Notes. First you skim through the text, then you start filling in information in the grid below. The grid is divided into four sections. Before a close reading of the text, write down the topic of the text in the first column. While reading, write down interesting ideas and facts in the second column. When you have read the text, look at your notes and extract interesting key words. Write down the key words in the third column. If possible, compare and discuss your key words with a learning partner. Finally, summarize the most important ideas in the fourth column.

9 Learning in depth
Below you will find a grid where the reader is asked to identify various significant aspects of a text. You may not be able to identify all the aspects mentioned in this grid. However, if you have these approaches in the back of your mind while reading, it will help you structure the most important ideas in the text. Here are some suggestions:

First, try to identify definitions. If there are no terms defined in the text, try to define what you consider to be the key terms. If you are reading a text about the 2016 US presidential election candidate, Donald Trump, you may choose to define Democrat and Republican.

Secondly, if you are reading a factual text, the text might also introduce a problem and possibly also a solution to the problem.

Thirdly, look for comparisons and contrasts. For example, in a text about Trump and his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, you might look for what Trump and Clinton have in common and also consider how they differ. In addition, consider cause and effect. When Trump ridicules his opponents in the Republican Party, how do the Republican voters respond? Above all, identify goal, action and outcomes. Examples: What is Trump’s goal? To become president. How will he achieve this? One approach is to insult and ridicule his opponents. What is the outcome of all this? Mention for instance the number of delegates he has won.

10 Summing up a text
Check how much you remember from a text by using your cellphone: Record what you have learned and see if you can talk about your topic for five minutes.

April 2016

rikke-pihlstrom-portrett-2-tmbRIKKE PIHLSTRØM er faglærer i engelsk ved Elvebakken videregående skole og tidligere universitetslektor ved Institutt for lærerutdanning og skoleforskning ved Universitetet i Oslo. Hun har skrevet boka «Teaching English in Norway» (Universitetsforlaget, 2013) og vært konsulent for British Council Norway. Pihlstrøms spesialområde er arbeid med grunnleggende ferdigheter i klasserommet.

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