Research tells us that there are certain things that good readers do as they are reading so that they can maximize their understanding of the text. First, good readers use their background knowledge to make sense of what they read. Good teachers know this and help students activate relevant prior knowledge before they ask students to read. Students who do not have a rich storehouse of background knowledge or who come from a different culture, need to have greater levels of pre-teaching before reading including visuals, introduction to new vocabulary, graphic organizers and appropriate realia to enhance their background knowledge prior to reading. When we connect first with our background knowledge reading is more meaningful for the brain.
Good readers create mental images as they read. I tell students that it is like seeing the “movie version” played out in their head as they read. Good readers create images of the characters in a story, the action taking place or pictures of the information which they are learning. Good readers become emotionally involved with what they are reading. How many times have you been so emotionally involved with a good book that you didn’t want to put it down? That’s what good readers do. They identify with the text and become engrossed in it. Help students think about the visual images they get from reading by using graphic organizers, having students draw pictures and verbally describe the mental images they are creating as they read various types of text. Use drawing and graphic organizers to help students visualize the text they are reading.
Good readers know that text should make sense and they know when what they are reading makes sense and when it doesn’t. Good readers know how to use a wide-variety of “fix-up” strategies when they lose meaning while reading. They use many strategies such as skipping ahead, re-reading, reading aloud, slowing the pace and re-reading and asking questions to help themselves problem-solve and reconnect with meaning in the text. Good readers understand that when they no longer understand what they are reading, they need to stop and figure out how to fix the problem before they continue. Teachers need to consciously help students monitor their own comprehension and teach “fix-up” strategies that students can use to problem-solve the reading task. They need to help their students understand that all readers lose meaning from time to time and that the trick is to have strategies to use to get back on track when this happens. You can find many great ideas to use to build strong high school readers in my book, Literacy Strategies: Reinforcing the Threads of Reading.
Good readers identify the most important ideas as they read. They understand how to distinguish between important information and unimportant information as they read. They can use the information that they have learned to synthesize what they have read and retell or summarize it. Good readers can provide an oral or written summary of the main points (or themes) of the text. They can talk about the text, question ideas presented in the text or mesh what they have read with their per-exising background knowledge on the topic to deepen their knowledge of the topic. Model reflective thinking for your students by thinking aloud as you process and think about different types of text. Teachers can help students develop this ability by asking them to write “gist” paragraphs or summaries, discuss the main points of a text and write questions that they have about the text after reading.
Good readers have an expansive vocabulary to talk about text. They can make comparisons between topics and characters because they have a good storehouse of adjectives to make effective comparisons. You can find lists of words that can help students be more specific when they describe characters in my book, Tests That Teach which is about helping students delve deeper into text meaning and understand text at deeper levels so they can do well on state assessments.
Good readers use their prior knowledge and information to relate to the text while they are reading. They make predictions about what will happen, what they might learn in remaining portions of the text, and how the information fits together in a sensible whole. They look for discrepancies or question what the author has written, look for answers to their own questions, draw conclusions, and create interpretations about the text based on both existing and new knowledge. Good readers understand that it is alright to disagree with an author’s position and that they can check other reference sources to see if the information they are reading is valid. In this internet age of rapid information, helping students evaluate information and look for source bias is an important skill that we must teach our students as consumers and users of information. They must know that all information isn’t “created equal.”
Good readers use time tested strategies such as SQ3R to think about what they are reading based on the title, chapter headings and support materials provided in the text. They look for answers to their questions as they read and take organized notes to synthesize important information. Good readers reflect on what they have read. They talk to others to clarify their questions or confusions and sort out key information to add to their own storehouse of knowledge. They mesh new knowledge with existing knowledge to build a solid set of beliefs and understandings about various topics. This is truly the goal of education.