Strategies to Use While You Are Reading

Use active reading strategies to connect new information with prior knowledge.  There are two kinds of active reading strategies: Elaboration and Organizational. Typically, you will use elaboration strategies while you are reading and organizational strategies after you have completed the reading (go to organizational strategies).

Elaboration Strategies 

These strategies help you elaborate on the material to connect it to your prior knowledge and lead to further inquiry into the topic.

  • Mark up the text while reading
    • This involves much more than highlighting or underlining passages that you think are significant.  You should write notes in the margins to help you think about what you are reading and begin to process the material into your long-term memory. 
    • Note where the text differs from the lecture or maybe includes a useful example to complement the lectures.  If you disagree with the author, note it in the margin.  Write quick notes in your own words to summarize a passage or to note an example that will help you remember a concept. 
    • If an author is covering a series of points within a long passage, you can mark each point in the margin with a number, such as 1.  And then a brief statement in your own words.  This will help you create a structure for the material. 
  • Write summaries as you read
    • Writing a summary in your own words after reading a passage is a powerful way to remember the material.  Write the summary without referring back to the reading.  If you cannot do so, then go back and read the passage again.
    • Learning to write effective summaries will take practice.  You want to include enough information to capture the argument or significant points, but do not want to simple copy the text.
    • Tips for writing summaries
      • Eliminate trivial and redundant information.
      • Use lists.  Sometimes your summary might be a list.  Again, be discerning about what you include in the list.  Too much detail will not be helpful.  Remember, it is a summary.   
      • Restate the topic sentences in your own words.  If a text does not provide topic sentences, then write your own.
  • Draw pictures and create mental images to help you remember 
    If you are having trouble remembering the key points, turn the written descriptions into mental images or even draw pictures.  This strategy can range from drawing the actual parts of an atom to using a diagram to represent relationships between different historical events.
  • Ask yourself questions as you read 
    Asking questions and making predictions keeps you thinking as you read and provides a way to monitor your comprehension.  These questions can be as simple as asking What is the main idea of this section?  You can also make questions out of the sub headings in the text.  For example, while reading a chapter on World War I  in a history textbook, you run across the Sub heading “The Debate over American Involvement.”  Possible questions to ask might be:  who was involved in the debate?  Why did some Americans want the U.S. to get involved in the war while others did not?  What arguments did the two sides use?