The purpose of practicing these strategies
is to expand your repertoire of reading techniques
and the ways you think about reading, the ways you
perceive yourself as a reader. Keep in mind that many
of these strategies are just exercises. Such exercises
as mumbling or reading pages in a random order are
not intended to become a permanent reading method,
but they should help you understand how you read and
perhaps suggest ways to become a sharper thinker while
reading. Other strategies (such as reading aloud or
dramatizing a passage) can frequently be used for
short periods of time--so that when you return to
your "normal" reading practices you may feel refreshed
This page has three sections:
Refresher Strategies, and
Skilled Reader Strategies.
Try a few at a time, mix and match, go in order,
whatever you wish to do to bring new insights into
- The Special Reading Place. Find somewhere
new to read, somewhere you have never previously
spent any time, some place that is quiet and secluded,
free of any likely interruptions. There are several
rarely used areas in the library, many classrooms
at night that have no one in them, or perhaps
you want to find a noisy place that is so filled
with noise that you can block out the distractions.
You might also consider a few places off campus;
Wendy's could be a great place to go for a drink,
a few fries or a caesar salad (for the health
conscious types), and virtually no one to bother
you. Once, you are settled, pull out the book
and start reading. And then return to this same
place on at least two more occasions; and be precise
about where you sit-not just in Wendy's but the
same chair at the same table. Wherever you choose,
do nothing here but read. No other studying allowed.
No stereo music. No distractions. Nothing but
reading. See if the place begins to invite reading,
that once you get into the space, you begin to
automatically assume the reader's frame of mind.
Can we become better readers by changing our environment?
Start with the Conclusion.
Read the conclusion of the text first. You can
decide how much of the conclusion you want to
read, but select a long enough passage so you
can gain some idea of what is happening. If you
choose a ten-page essay, you might read the last
3-4 paragraphs; if a two-page poem, perhaps the
last 20-25 lines. After you've read the conclusion,
go to the beginning and read the piece all the
way through. While reading, keep in mind what
you know about the conclusion and consider how
the pieces of text you are reading might somehow
prepare the reader for that ending.
Reading Pages in Random Order.
Choose a story or essay or book chapter of 5-10
pages and read the pages in random order. For
example, in a 9-page story, you can begin with
page 7, read page 3, then jump to page 6. You
can continue this process until all pages have
been read, or you can stop after you have read
at least half of text. Before beginning this random
reading, write down the order of the pages as
you intend to read them. After you finish this
first reading, think about what you discovered,
and then reread the pages of the text in the right
order. Notice how the piece unfolds, notice the
transition devices that help structure the composition,
notice the way ideas and details build on each
other. This reading strategy may seem crazy, and
it's certainly not a strategy that you would use
for all reading assignments, but with some luck
you may discover some new insights about how compositions
are structured-and how you look for clues to help
you discover what is going on in a text. Also
consider how your reading the second time might
compare with what it would be like if you were
meeting this text for the first time.
Gradual Increase in Reading
Speed. You need to choose a composition that
is at least six pages long. Read the first page,
stopping whenever you need to reconsider what's
happening, what is being said. When you reach
the bottom of the first page, go back to the beginning
of the text and start reading a second time. Try
to establish a normal, even-paced reading rate.
At the beginning of the third page, start to pick
up your reading speed very slightly. Don't rush,
don't get tense; just read a bit faster than normal
while maintaining a smooth, even tempo to your
reading. Try to maintain this speed to the end
of the composition. If you do need to stop or
reread a passage, that's fine, but once you enter
the text, try to return to the slightly faster
reading pace. After you finish reading, think
for a minute or so about how this variation in
your reading speed affected your comprehension.
Spotting Key Words. For
an initial encounter with a text, skim through
a text, underlining suspected key words. Be on
the lookout for new or unfamiliar words, phrases,
or terms and underline them. Do this for the first
four pages of the composition. When you reach
the bottom of page 4, go back and look up any
unfamiliar words or phrases. Write marginal notes
explaining/defining what you learn from your dictionary
or another source. Now read through the piece
all the way through. Does the preparation spent
on the first four pages help you read those pages
and the remaining text more effectively? Did you
notice a significant difference in comprehension
or interest when you moved into the previously
Twenty Details. While you
are reading, place a check mark next to any passage
that expresses a key idea or important insight
or simply something that you find interesting.
By the end of the text, aim for twenty check marks.
If you don't have twenty check marks, go back
to the beginning and start reading again, checking
off important passages you missed the first time
until you have about twenty check marks. Now take
a quick look at each marked passage and in the
margins (or at the end of the piece) summarize
the most significant points you identified.
Kinesthetic Reading. Most
of the time when we are reading, we are sitting
down or lying on a bed or scrunched up on a sofa.
For this reading strategy, you need to be up and
about. This exercise would probably work best
with a fairly short passage, no more than 4-5
pages. While reading, read with your entire body.
Feel the words in your body. Allow yourself to
move around, to walk, to pace, even to dance.
Think of the words as instructions for dancing.
Use your body movements as a way to interpret
the text or to give emphasis to key moments. You
might want to read the text twice. The first time,
just reading in a normal way. Then use the kinesthetic
reading for your second time through the text.
Reading on a Walk. Take
your book and go for a walk (this is a strategy
that works better in June than in January). During
the walk, stop a few times and read from your
text. Then continue walking. Or you can go for
a walk, find a nice cozy bench or swing, and read
the entire text in one sitting. But periodically
refresh yourself. Stop looking at the words and
enjoy the spring flowers or fall leaves, the squirrels
planting acorns, the clouds above the trees. Relax
and read some more.
Stopping at the Halfway Point.
Before starting the text, mark a point in the
text that is approximately in the middle. After
reading the first half of the text, stop and think
about what you have read. Do some quick review,
skimming through the portions you have read to
remind yourself of details or key points you may
have forgotten. In the margins write some brief
notes to summarize what you have so far. Now finish
reading the second half of the text. Repeat the
skimming, review, and summarizing for the second
half of the text.
Reading Two Pieces Simultaneously.
The title of this strategy is misleading. You
won't read the two pieces at exactly the same
time. But the idea is to read two pieces back
to back, and to try and keep the first piece in
your thoughts while reading the second piece.
This strategy does not always work, but it is
surprising how often two different compositions
will speak to each other-that some image or idea
appearing in one piece will enable you to understand
something in a second composition. This strategy
involves a kind of comparison, so that when you
finish the second piece you can reflect on how
these two pieces relate to each other. The relationship
can be in terms of character or plot (applicable,
for example, if you're comparing two short stories)
or phrasing or ideas or speaking voices or whatever.
This strategy can be used in combination with
another strategy, so you read the first piece
using one strategy and the second piece using
this strategy. When you finish the second piece,
jot down a few notes in the margins of your text,
reflecting on how the two pieces compare.
To read inductively is to move from specifics
to generalizations, to use details and examples
and specific bits of information and draw conclusions
from that data, and thus to discover the thesis,
the controlling idea, the main point(s) to be
drawn from the text. To read deductively is to
begin with the generalizations, the thesis, the
main point(s) and then to read for purposes of
acquiring evidence to support the thesis or to
test the thesis to determine its accuracy or appropriateness.
As a simple rule of thumb, we begin new texts
by reading inductively, trying to use the text's
data to give us a clue on how to interpret and
comprehend the text's messages. At some point
we construct a hypothesis for telling us what
this essay or story or poem or chapter or book
is about. That controlling idea hypothesis may
come as soon as we read the title; it may come
when we finish reading the first paragraph or
the first page or when we finish the text--or
perhaps such an insight never arrives. But usually
at some moment in the text there will be a shift
in our reading: we grasp the author's message
and then our reading process shifts, taking in
new data from the text and plugging that new information
into the schema or plan that the mind has created
for this text (a creation based on discoveries
while reading). Try reading a text while keeping
this inductive/deductive tension in mind. As you
are reading, occasionally think about which kind
of reading you are doing: inductive or deductive?
And then see if there isn't some moment (or perhaps
more than one moment) when your reading strategy
switches and you switch modes. If such a switch
occurs, jot down a brief note in the margin indicating
where this happened, and you might reflect on
why. If you reach the end of the text but you
still have no sense of a controlling idea for
this text, start reading it again and keep reading
until you can articulate what this text is about.
Summarize that insight in the margins of the text,
close to the passage you were reading when the
insight came to you.
Visualizing Yourself as a Reader.
We often allow negative thoughts and mental baggage
to interfere with our comprehension of a text.
It's difficult to enjoy playing basketball if
you are constantly telling yourself how you hate
basketball and how lousy you are as a player.
Maybe by the standards of Michael Jordan you are
not a great basketball player, but we don't all
have to be the best in order to gain value from
what we are doing. When a task is at hand, just
do the task. That doing can be helped if you visualize
yourself succeeding at this task. Reading can
perhaps be helped by an ability to see yourself
as a reader. Before you begin reading a text,
create a mental picture of yourself reading the
piece. See yourself as a confident reader, someone
who knows how to handle difficult challenges.
No need to be cocky, just a sense that you can
handle this text. And then start reading. And
when your concentration drops or various kinds
of interference interrupt your thought, stop reading,
focus on the interference for a moment, tell it
to go away, wipe it from the mind, and return
to the text, again seeing yourself as the reader.
Mumbling. While you are
reading, actually voice the words, speaking clearly
enough that you can just hear the words you are
reading to yourself. Give some inflection to your
voice so you are not reading everything in a monotone,
but keep your voice relatively quiet. Do not read
with a full, loud voice. It is probably best to
try this strategy in some location where your
mumbling will not bother others. [While thinking
about this exercise, you might keep in mind that
silent reading is a fairly recent development.
Prior to the 15th century, very few people read
silently. If you visited a medieval monastery,
for example, you would have found all the monks
mumbling the words while reading. The assumption
was that to read, you needed to hear the words-and
so nearly all reading was done aloud.]
Reading Aloud to Someone.
This is another strategy that will probably work
best with a short piece or an excerpt from a longer
piece; it also depends on going through a text
two times. Begin by reading through the composition
in a "normal" way. When you are finished, find
a reading partner, someone willing to listen to
you read and talk with you about the piece after
you are finished. The Writing Center staff are
always available for these sessions. While reading
the text aloud to your partner, the two of you
can decide if your partner will just listen or
will follow along in the text as you read. Once
you are finished reading, discuss the piece. The
topic of the conversation can be wide open-whatever
you and your partner want to discuss-but try to
stay focused on the text, talking about main ideas
or writing style or whatever catches your fancy.
When the conversation is over, consider how the
text has changed since you read it the first time.
Someone Reading Aloud to You.
Same process as above, except this time your partner
reads the text aloud to you. All the other aspects
of the strategy remain the same, including the
five-minute conversation after the reading is
Talking Through a Text.
This strategy may be useful when encountering
a complex or ambiguous text. Find a partner and
the two of you work through a text together, perhaps
line by line or sentence by sentence. As you proceed
through the poem or essay or chapter, talk about
any word or phrase or image that is puzzling or
intriguing. Work together in constructing the
text's meaning. Feel free to jot down notes if
Telling Someone About What
You Read. After you finish reading the text,
go over the key discoveries in your mind. If necessary,
review the text, perhaps jotting down some marginal
notes. Then corner someone for a few minutes (e.g.,
room mate, lover, parent, drinking buddy, Writing
Center Consultant, instructor, President Phifer)
and tell the person something about what you read.
Try to explain in substantial detail what you
read, what you thought of it, how it compares
with other texts you've read or movies you've
seen or whatever seems comparable. Once the conversation
is over, consider how the text changed for you
once you began talking about it.
Predictions Preceding Reading.
Before you begin reading your text (for example,
a chapter in your course textbook), think about
the subject for the text and jot down a list of
what you know about this subject. Don't worry
about perfect sentences; just create a written
portrait of the insights on this subject you already
have at hand. While creating this list, you can
also start a second list: what do you expect to
learn from this text you are about to read? What
do you want to learn? Once these two lists are
done, start reading the text, keeping in mind
how the new information corresponds with your
previous knowledge and how well the text is answering
your questions. Also track instances where you
are surprised by what the text delivers, offering
passages totally unexpected.
End of Text Summary. When
you are finished reading the story, poem, or essay,
write a paragraph in the margin or at the end
of the composition, summarizing what strikes you
as most interesting or appealing or puzzling about
A Reward. Before reading
your selected piece, determine a reward you will
give yourself for the successful completion of
the assignment. You determine the appropriate
reward, whether a handful of M & M's or 15 minutes
watching TV or shooting pool with a professor.
But be honest with yourself: don't give yourself
the reward until you have read and understood
the text you chose for yourself. No prize until
you've earned the prize.
Underlining Key Words/Rereading.
This strategy depends upon you planning to read
a piece two times. The first time through the
text, try to maintain a smooth, even reading tempo.
But keep a pencil handy, and underline or put
a check in the margins for identifying what you
suspect are key words in the piece or new words
that you don't recognize. After you finish, go
back through the text. Think about the significance
of the key words or marked phrases. Look up unfamiliar
words and write the appropriate definitions in
the margins. Now reread the piece, focusing your
attention on details and insights unnoticed during
the first reading. Note: you have two options
for doing the second reading-it can occur immediately
after the first reading and word study or you
can let the text sit for a day or two and then
come back to it.
a few minutes to skim through the text. While
skimming, look for repeated names of people, names
of organizations, recurrent words or phrases that
might be important. When you are done with your
skimming, spend a few moments guessing what is
covered in this piece. What have you learned so
far and what are you expecting to find when you
read the complete text? Once you have thought
about the text, read it straight through, tracking
how your reading corrects or modifies or completes
your initial impression. Focus on the new information
you are acquiring and how this fits with what
you learned from skimming.
Marginal Notes. While reading,
periodically jot down notes about the text in
the white space around the text. The nature of
the marginal notes are up to you. Notes can be
summaries of important ideas, comments on ideas,
brief quotes of interesting or puzzling passages,
insights or responses you have while reading,
Annotating a Text.
is a technique for marking a text so the structure
and main points or illustrations are highlighted.
A reader can develop a personalized annotation
system unique to the persona's individual reading
habits. Here are a few annotation techniques that
might prove beneficial:
- Circle the thesis or key themes
- Insert brackets around key supporting points
- Underline key details and examples
- Use marginal symbols to indicate personal
feelings or insights about passage. For example:
- "N.B." for the Latin phrase nota bene,
'mark well"; used to identify important,
- Question marks for passages that seem
confusing or vague.
- "Cf" for "confer" points: noting instances
when the marked passages connects with
some other passage in this text or another
Whatever annotation system you devise, keep it
simple and flexible.
Hearing the Text Inside Your
Head. While reading the text, listen to the
voice inside your head reading the text. Be sure
you can actually hear that voice and that the
voice has a natural inflection, a sense of phrasing
and rhythm. If the voice has trouble with a passage,
don't hesitate to stop and reread. Listen to how
your internal speaker handles the language. Don't
forget to think about the meaning of the words,
but also remain aware of how meaning is delivered
through the sound of a voice and the way sentences
are phrased and given life by the voice.
Visualizing the Text. While
reading, visualize what is happening, what is
being suggested by the author's words. Try to
see the landscape, the people, their actions.
If the text is primarily abstractions and ideas,
try to visualize the ideas in some way-or perhaps
visualize the person delivering these ideas to
you. You might imagine that you are creating a
movie of the piece in your head, treating the
text as a script.
Reading and Rereading.
Read your text using any strategies that feel
most appropriate. Let the text sit unread for
a few days and then reread the piece again. What
did you remember? How was the second reading different
from the first? Were you surprised by any discoveries
in the second reading, seeing things that you
didn't see the first time?
Chewing the Cud. Reading
involves not only the time when you are looking
at a text but also the process of thinking and
reworking the text and its ideas after you have
absorbed the words and translated them into meaning.
The process is perhaps analogous to cattle that
eat their grass or hay (reading the words on the
page) and then lie down to regurgitate their food
and rechew what they had swallowed (what the writer
Sven Birkerts calls "shadow reading"-continuing
to think about the text after it has been translated
from words on page to images and ideas in the
mind). To practice this strategy, set aside time
to do both kinds of reading. First, read the words
on the page, using whatever strategy seems most
helpful. Second, when you are finished with the
text (or you can stop periodically during the
reading), think about what you have read. You
can jot down some notes while thinking, but try
to focus on developing a mental reconstruction
of key points in the text. If needed, feel free
to look at passages of the text again, to refresh
your mind on what was there. You need not rigorously
time yourself, but try to put in at least ten
minutes rethinking the text. At the end of this
period of meditation and thought, write a few
brief notes in your book identifying the major
points you explored while "shadow reading."