If your students (or you yourself) have trouble reading effectively—if their eyes move over the right pages and paragraphs, but they then look blank when asked what the story was about— teach them active reading. Here are the key rules:
1. Warm up your brain. Nothing numbs comprehension like rushing through a to-do list at breakneck speed. Before starting your reading time, take a short break after the last task, and let your mind relax. Then, ask yourself: What do I already know about this text? What do I want to get from it (besides a passing grade)? How is the topic relevant to my life? Pick up the reading itself only after considering these questions.
2. Sweep the chapter. Call it “sweeping,” “skimming,” or “scanning”—but do a quick all-over preview before actually reading. Note what jumps out at your passing glance, especially anything that is visually emphasized; these are points to keep in mind as you read the passage thoroughly.
3. Write as you read. Whether directly in the book or on a separate tablet, underline or write down key points and what supports them. This not only ensures you won’t lose them entirely; the physical action of marking helps your brain store the information on the spot.
4. Look up words you don’t understand. Don’t (as Charles Schulz put it) “bleep right over” strange-to-you words, nor rely solely on context to decipher them; you may miss some important nuances. Many electronic files allow you to simply tap for on-the-fly definitions; otherwise, if you don’t want to interrupt reading flow by turning to a dictionary, add the word to your notes and mark it “look up as soon as possible.”
5. Ask questions. Consider: Why do things unfold as they do? What weaknesses does the hero have? Can you find points of empathy with the bad guys? (Even in nonfiction, there are “good guys” and “bad guys,” in the form of ideas that do or don’t support the author’s viewpoint.) Where do you agree or disagree with the points the author makes? Why?
6. Look for answers. Going beyond points 4 and 5, note what you already knew about the subject, what new facts or perspectives you have acquired, and what else you want to look up. Then, consider how all this will help you understand others and make your unique mark on the world.
7. Turn chapter titles and headings into questions. To maximize your learning experience, go over the reading once more, paying special attention to titles and other headings—and covering any additional questions these bring to mind. “Don’t Believe the Experts”—why? “Learn to Sew in Three Hours”—how?
8. Understand what you are reading. Finally, review your notes once more; schedule next steps in solving any still-unanswered questions; define in 100 words or less what the author intended and what you’ve learned—and pat yourself on the back for being an active reader!