Updated: May 27, 2020
Once you’ve cleared the hurdle of learning to read (and that will take as long as it takes!), you move on to the most common purpose of reading – reading to learn. Most of the reading that we do during the day, whether at school or at work, is not actually for pleasure, it’s to gather information. Or, in school, it’s often to prove that we can gather information! So here are a few handy pointers to help you to do that more effectively.
Be clear on what you’re looking for in the text and why!
Why are you reading this text? Are you answering questions on the text? Are you gathering information for a report? Are you reading a novel and you want to find out more about the characters or the setting?
Knowing the what and the why will help you to know how to approach the text. Depending on your purpose, you may not have to read every word. You may just have to skim or scan for particular information.
Set yourself up to remember and to organise the information.
Before you start reading, do a quick brainstorming of everything that you already know about the subject. Record this information on a mind map or in whichever template works best for you. Having a scaffold like this helps you to organise your new information and to remember it better. When you come across new information, you can quickly add it to the schema that you have already visualised. Think of your brain as a computer. If you save everything on the desktop instead of in the correct file (no, of course I’m not talking to myself!), it will be so much more difficult to find what you need.
Look beyond the text.
Collect all the information that you can from the page or the book before you start to read the text. What information you can glean from pictures or graphs? If there are questions, read those first. They give you clues as to the content of the text and will help you to understand how the information is structured. They will also introduce key words and concepts in the text.
If you are reading a book, go right ahead and judge it by its cover! You will at least get some idea of the main characters and setting.The design and colour palette often hint at the atmosphere of the book and at the style of the author.
Use that highlighter pen sparingly!
Don’t be tempted to mark every line of your text with your trusty highlighter pen. But before you read the whole text, do use it to mark the first line of every paragraph. The first line generally tells you what the paragraph will be about. Just by reading these highlighted sentences, you will get a quick idea of the overall structure of the text.
Make the information your own.
To avoid the dreaded habit of copying chunks of text straight from the page (this is also plagiarism!), use my favourite tool of all - the sticky note. After you have read a paragraph, stop to scribble a quick doodle of the information in the paragraph on a sticky note. This works best if you use no words at all! When you have finished reading the text, check your understanding and your memory by repeating the information in the paragraphs, referring only to the sticky notes as your memory aids. Drawing a doodle instead of writing words helps you to process the information better, so that you are more likely to remember it. You are also more likely to express the information in your own words.
As an added bonus, if you have to write a report or create a presentation, you can use the sticky notes as your basic structure and move them around to arrange the order of the information as it most pleases you.
You might notice that most of the work in reading comprehension is actually done before you read the text at all. You already are your own best source, the new text is just there to add to what you already know. Doing all the main work first will make reading comprehension less of an obstacle course and more of a hurdles race – you do have to keep jumping over things but you’ve set yourself up to sail over them with confidence.
Bríd is a special needs specialist with focus on dyslexia and literacy difficulties. With more than 25 years of classroom experience in Ireland and in Germany, she now provides literacy intervention for individual learners. She is also concept manager at Bux Books. Bux Books is a publishing company and service that offers high-readability books for young readers with dyslexia, attention disorders, or learning difficulties. By altering the form of text according to the Bux Books proprietary recipe, stories and concepts are transformed into a format which is easy to follow and comprehend.