Reading is the process of constructing
meaning through the dynamic interaction among:
the reader's existing knowledge,
the information suggested by the written language,
the context of the reading situation.
Four general purposes of reading are:
to gain information
to perform a task
to experience and enjoy literature
to form opinions
1. Take inventory of what you will be
Think about what you already know about
the subject. Write down some notes on these thoughts.
Look over the material you are reading - look for
key words and phrases that may be in italics or boldface.
Look for any graphs, captions, pictures or other graphics.
See if there is a summary at the end or a set of comprehension
questions. Most textbooks have summaries and questions.
These can be very helpful to guide your reading. You
should always read the summary and the questions before
you read the text. These will give you a good idea
of what to look for when you read. Remember: not everything
in the text is equally important: read for the main
2. See the forest, not the trees!
There is an English idiom that says,
"You can't see the forest for the trees."
This means that a person cannot see the overall picture
or idea because she/he is concentrating on the details
too much. When you are reading, don't try to understand
every word - get the overall idea.
3. Don't just read ---WRITE!
Take notes while you are reading. Sometimes
notes can be words and phrases that help you remember
main ideas. However, you can also draw pictures or
diagrams of key ideas. It's like drawing a map with
roads connecting different cities or locations. If
each location is an idea, connect them together in
4. If at first you don't succeed, try,
If possible, read the text more than
5. Don't be afraid to make guesses.
Try to guess at meaning by looking at
the context. The sentences and words immediately before
and after the point you are reading can give you good
6. Try to analyze the text.
Look for the introduction and conclusion.
Look for the topic sentences in each paragraph.
7. Make connections.
Try to make connections between main
ideas and supporting details. Well-written texts will
attempt to make connections of their ideas in a logical
8. Summarize & Paraphrase.
When you have finished reading a paragraph
or a portion of the text, stop and try to summarize
in your own words what you have read. You can do this
in your notes or you can explain it orally to someone
9. Talk with your friends.
Discuss what you have read with others
who have also read the same text.
SQ3R....for students & teachers
When you read, it is important to have a strategy
or a plan for reading effectively. If you do not have
a plan, you may be easily distracted or may not focus
on the right things in the text. As a result, when
you are finished reading, you may not understand very
much of what you have read. Also, you may not have
developed your English very much, either.
When you read, you must be actively
involved in the reading process in order to understand
most effectively. The SQ3R method is one way to help
you do this.
How does the SQ3R method work?
Survey means to scan the main parts
of the text you are going to read. This includes looking
at the title, headings of paragraphs, introduction
and conclusion, first lines of each paragraph, and
any extra information that may be presented in boxes
on the page. Doing this gives you some basic understanding
of what the text is about and helps you know what
to expect when you read in more detail.
Questions are very helpful when you
read a text. Most of the time, people read first,
and then look at questions at the end of the text.
However, this is not the best way to read. If possible,
read the questions provided for you FIRST. This will
help you know what specific information to look for.
Questions (those that are provided with text and those
provided by your teacher) are designed to focus on
the main points. Therefore, if you read to answer
these questions, you will be focusing on the main
points in the text. This helps you read with a goal
in mind - answering specific questions.
Once you have some idea of what the
text is about and what the main points might be, start
reading. Do not be afraid if the text has many words
you cannot understand. Just read!
Follow these suggestions:
Do not use your dictionary the first
time through the text.
Try to understand as much as you can from the context.
Take notes as you go.
Make a note of places that you do not understand,
or words that are unclear.
Go through the text a second time.
Try to answer the questions.
Studies have suggested that students
remember 80% of what they learn, if they repeat the
information verbally. If they do not repeat verbally,
they often forget 80%. Writing down the answers to
questions from the text and saying these answers will
help you remember the information. One good way to
do this is to discuss the information with a friend
or classmate, or with the professor. Try to summarize
the main points you have learned from the reading
and add to your knowledge from the comments and responses
of the person you are talking with.
Review means to go over something again.
In order to remember information, you cannot simply
memorize it one day and then put it aside. After you
have read and discussed and studied your information,
it is important to review your notes again a few days
or weeks later. This will help you keep the information
fresh in your mind.
(SQ3R was developed in 1941 by Francis Robinson)
Strategies for Teaching Reading Strategies
MODES OF READING
Different modes of reading offer varying
levels of support for students, from having the teacher
read the entire text aloud to having students read
the text independently. It is frequently appropriate
to combine several modes of reading at once. The combination
provides a scaffold for learning that gradually releases
responsibility to the students and helps them to become
more proficient readers. Different combinations are
used to meet the differing needs of students in relation
to the materials they are reading.
The teacher reads aloud from a text
that is too challenging for the students to read and
comprehend alone. Usually the students do not have
a copy of the text. The teacher may complete the text
in one reading or may continue reading a longer text
over a period of time. Reading aloud is used to develop
background information, to make connections across
texts, or for enjoyment.
Teacher-Directed Interactive Reading
Using grade level materials which may
include magazine or newspaper articles, poems, charts,
or other forms of print, the teacher provides direct,
supported reading of text to the whole class. The
text is read in a variety of ways.
The teacher introduces the text and
sets a purpose for independent, silent reading of
a part or all of the text.
The teacher reads the text or part of
the text aloud while students follow the reading in
their own texts. The teacher pauses for predictions,
clarifications, and questions. A summary of what was
read is developed orally or in writing with the class.
Students are paired for buddy reading
of the text.
Small groups of students read the text
together using reciprocal teaching strategies.
The teacher reads the text aloud to
a small group of students while the rest of the class
reads the selection independently, with a buddy, or
in a small group.
Groups of students or the whole class
may read the text together as a choral reading activity.
The teacher provides small group instruction
using materials at the instructional level of the
group. The teacher supports the development of effective
reading strategies for processing new texts at increasingly
challenging levels of difficulty. This progression
of difficulty must be in increments small enough to
allow the reader to bridge the gap without being frustrated.
Therefore, the best materials for guided reading are
sets of books that have the progression built in.
For elementary school students whose instructional
reading level is close to grade level, the grade level
basal may be used to provide guided reading instruction.
During Guided Reading, the teacher works
with a small group of students who use similar reading
processes and are able to read similar levels of text
with support. The teacher introduces a text to this
small group and works briefly with individuals in
the group as each student reads to him/herself. The
teacher may select one or two reading strategies to
present to the group following the reading and may
have students participate in extension activities.
Basic to Guided Reading is that the text is one that
offers the reader a minimum of new concepts to learn
so that students can read the text with the strategies
they currently have, but it provides an opportunity
for new learning.
Structured Independent Reading
Students build reading fluency, practice
strategic reading skills, and increase their vocabularies
by spending sustained periods of in-class time engaged
in independent reading. Books may be self-selected
or teacher assigned, but are at the students' independent
reading levels. Time for this fluency practice must
be built into the school day and must include a daily
Students in Kindergarten should spend
a minimum of 15 minutes each day in developmentally
appropriate independent reading behavior. Students
in grades 1-12 must spend 30 minutes each day on in-class
independent reading. All students, K-12, must read
30 minutes each night as daily reading homework. Activities
which support and strengthen independent reading include:
drawing a picture of a favorite part of the book;
discussing the book/chapter read with a partner or
a small group;
keeping a record or log of each book completed;
writing a brief summary of the content;
making a personal response to the reading in a log
writing dialogue journals to the teacher about the
independent reading material; and/or
taking the Accelerated Reader test.
Working With Words
Students receive daily explicit, systematic
instruction in one or more of the following as appropriate:
phonemic awareness, students are taught the sounds
of the language;
phonics instruction, students receive instruction
in letter/sound matching;
blending and segmenting sounds, and decoding;
graphophonic instruction, students learn to use letter/sound
correspondence to write;
syntactic, students learn word patterns and spelling,
prefixes, suffixes, root words, etymologies; and
vocabulary, students learn word meanings, analogies,
usage, and cognates.
Students are taught to become strategic
readers through an active dialogue with a teacher/leader
and other students. Working in small groups, students
practice the following critical reading strategies:
making predictions based on titles, captions, pictures,
prior knowledge, etc.;
formulating good questions based on the text (e.g.,
writing test questions);
seeking clarification of words, phrases, or concepts
summarizing, getting the main idea; and
forming visual images while reading.
Questions and Discussion
Critical to reading comprehension is
the ability to ask and answer higher order thinking
questions about text and to defend or challenge answers
using information and details from the text to support
positions. Students at all levels and in all subject
areas must have daily opportunities to raise questions
to be used in group discussions about texts. Student-generated
questions should be used to formulate teacher-made
Read and Retell
Retellings are powerful tools because
they serve authentic instructional and assessment
purposes. Students retell, orally or in writing, narrative
or expository text. In the retelling, they use the
same form, style, and language of the original text.
This strategy aids comprehension of text, expands
vocabulary, and provides good models for students
to transfer to their personal writing. Retellings
provide insights into the thinking, organization,
and comprehension levels of the readers. In primary
grades students may use drawings in combination with
Learning to Write, Writing to Learn
Writing and reading are reciprocal skills
which strongly support one another. It is important
that students receive daily instruction in effective
writing and that they use writing to demonstrate what
they have learned. Writing is thinking made visible.
It supports students in learning to construct meaning
and become proficient readers. It involves many activities
exploring different modes of writing;
mini-lessons that include modeling; and
engaging students in meaningful interactions with
Critical reading means learning to look
through texts rather than at them; it means reading
beyond and beneath surface meanings to the assumptions,
arguments, and strategies behind them. Critical reading
means learning about how texts work: how they make
their meaning, how they appeal to your emotions and
intellect, how they present arguments that are explicit
and implicit; how they reason with readers and manipulate
To be a critical reader, you need to
learn how to "slow down" your reading. Slowing
down your reading doesn't mean you ought to read more
slowly; it means that you need to read in such a way
that you learn to be aware of a text's various parts
and processes. Running your eye over the words on
the page it is easy to think of any piece of writing
as a smooth and solid object. But all writing -- whether
a short story by a famous writer or a paper by one
of your classmates -- is the result of a process and
the product of a context. Both the process and context
that produce a piece of writing are reflected in various
ways in a text's parts and layers. When you learn
to slow down your reading you will be able to see
that all writing is made up of parts and layers that
come together in the writing process to make something
that seems whole.
Critical Reading Classroom Environment
For active, critical reading to occur,
teachers must create an atmosphere which fosters inquiry.
Students must be encouraged to question, to make predictions,
and to organize ideas which support value judgments.
Two techniques for developing these kinds of critical
reading skills include problem solving and learning
to reason through reading. Flynn (1989) describes
an instructional model for problem solving which promotes
analysis, synthesis, and evaluation of ideas. She
states that, "When we ask students to analyze
we expect them to clarify information by examining
the component parts. Synthesis involves combining
relevant parts into a coherent whole, and evaluation
includes setting up standards and then judging against
them to verify the reasonableness of ideas."
Beck (1989) adopts a similar perspective,
using the term "reasoning" to imply higher
order thinking skills. Comprehension requires inferencing,
which plays a central role in reasoning and problem
solving. For Beck, children's literature has the potential
to engage students in reasoning activities.
When literature is approached from a
problem solving perspective, students are asked to
evaluate evidence, draw conclusions, make inferences,
and develop a line of thinking (Riecken and Miller,
1990). According to Flynn (1989), children are capable
of solving problems at all ages and need to be encouraged
to do so at every grade level. (See, for example,
"Using Fairy Tales" 1991 for young children;
Anton 1990 for elementary children; Johannessen 1989
for middle school children.) Teachers may want to
experiment with a particular children's book and plan
a lesson which places reasoning at the center of instruction.
Wilson (1988) suggests that teachers
re-think the way they teach reading and look critically
at their own teaching/thinking processes. She cautions
against skills lessons that are repackaged in the
name of critical thinking but which are only renamed
worksheets. She points out that teaching students
to read, write, and think critically is a dramatic
shift from what has generally taken place in most
According to Wilson, critical literacy
advocates the use of strategies and techniques like
formulating questions prior to, during, and after
reading; responding to the text in terms of the student's
own values; anticipating texts, and acknowledging
when and how reader expectations are aroused and fulfilled;
and responding to texts through a variety of writing
activities which ask readers to go beyond what they
have read to experience the text in personal ways.
CRITICAL READING STRATEGIES
Mastering these strategies will not
make the critical reading process an easy one, it
can make reading much more satisfying and productive
and thus help students handle difficult material well
and with confidence.
Fundamental to each of these strategies
is annotating directly on the page: underlining key
words, phrases, or sentences; writing comments or
questions in the margins; bracketing important sections
of the text; constructing ideas with lines or arrows;
numbering related points in sequence; and making note
of anything that strikes you as interesting, important,
Previewing: Learning about a text before really reading
it. Previewing enables readers to get a sense of what
the text is about and how it is organized before reading
it closely. This simple strategy includes seeing what
you can learn from the headnotes or other introductory
material, skimming to get an overview of the content
and organization, and identifying the rhetorical situation.
Contextualizing: Placing a text in its
historical, biographical, and cultural contexts. When
you read a text, you read it through the lens of your
own experience. Your understanding of the words on
the page and their significance is informed by what
you have come to know and value from living in a particular
time and place. But the texts you read were all written
in the past, sometimes in a radically different time
and place. To read critically, you need to contextualize,
to recognize the differences between your contemporary
values and attitudes and those represented in the
Questioning to understand and remember:
Asking questions about the content. As students, you
are accustomed (I hope) to teachers asking you questions
about your reading. These questions are designed to
help you understand a reading and respond to it more
fully, and often this technique works. When you need
to understand and use new information though it is
most beneficial if you write the questions, as you
read the text for the first time. With this strategy,
you can write questions any time, but in difficult
academic readings, you will understand the material
better and remember it longer if you write a question
for every paragraph or brief section. Each question
should focus on a main idea, not on illustrations
or details, and each should be expressed in your own
words, not just copied from parts of the paragraph.
Reflecting on challenges to your beliefs
and values: Examining your personal responses. The
reading that you do for this class might challenge
your attitudes, your unconsciously held beliefs, or
your positions on current issues. As you read a text
for the first time, mark an X in the margin at each
point where you fell a personal challenge to your
attitudes, beliefs, or status. Make a brief note in
the margin about what you feel or about what in the
text created the challenge. Now look again at the
places you marked in the text where you felt personally
challenged. What patterns do you see?
Outlining and summarizing: Identifying
the main ideas and restating them in your own words.
Outlining and summarizing are especially helpful strategies
for understanding the content and structure of a reading
selection. Whereas outlining revels the basic structure
of the text, summarizing synopsizes a selection's
main argument in brief. Outlining may be part of the
annotating process, or it may be done separately (as
it is in this class). The key to both outlining and
summarizing is being able to distinguish between the
main ideas and the supporting ideas and examples.
The main ideas form the backbone, the strand that
hold the various parts and pieces of the text together.
Outlining the main ideas helps you to discover this
structure. When you make an outline, don't use the
text's exact words.
Summarizing begins with outlining, but instead of
merely listing the main ideas, a summary recomposes
them to form a new text. Whereas outlining depends
on a close analysis of each paragraph, summarizing
also requires creative synthesis. Putting ideas together
again -- in your own words and in a condensed form
-- shows how reading critically can lead to deeper
understanding of any text.
Evaluating an argument: Testing the
logic of a text as well as its credibility and emotional
impact. All writers make assertions that want you
to accept as true. As a critical reader, you should
not accept anything on face value but to recognize
every assertion as an argument that must be carefully
evaluated. An argument has two essential parts: a
claim and support. The claim asserts a conclusion
-- an idea, an opinion, a judgment, or a point of
view -- that the writer wants you to accept. The support
includes reasons (shared beliefs, assumptions, and
values) and evidence (facts, examples, statistics,
and authorities) that give readers the basis for accepting
the conclusion. When you assess an argument, you are
concerned with the process of reasoning as well as
its truthfulness (these are not the same thing). At
the most basic level, in order for an argument to
be acceptable, the support must be appropriate to
the claim and the statements must be consistent with
Comparing and contrasting related readings:
Exploring likenesses and differences between texts
to understand them better. Many of the authors we
read are concerned with the same issues or questions,
but approach how to discuss them in different ways.
Fitting a text into an ongoing dialectic helps increase
understanding of why an author approached a particular
issue or question in the way he or she did.
THE STUDENT ROLE
Critical thinking implies that a reader
is actively and constructively engaged in the process
of reading. The reader is continually negotiating
what s/he knows with what s/he is trying to make sense
of. The role of background knowledge and the student's
ability to draw upon it are essential to critical
It is not an easy task to incorporate
higher level thinking skills into the classroom, but
it is a necessary one. For students to participate
in the society in which they live, they must have
experiences which prepare them for life. In order
to become critical thinkers, it is essential that
students learn to value their own thinking, to compare
their thinking and their interpretations with others,
and to revise or reject parts of that process when
it is appropriate.
A classroom environment which is student-centered
fosters student participation in the learning process.
Learning that is both personal and collaborative encourages
critical thinking. Students who are reading, writing,
discussing, and interacting with a variety of learning
materials in a variety of ways are more likely to
become critical thinkers.
THE TEACHER'S ROLE
Teachers who encourage pre-reading discussions
to help readers activate prior knowledge or fill in
gaps in background knowledge set the stage for critical
reading. They help students identify purposes for
reading, formulate hypotheses, and test the accuracy
of their hypotheses throughout the reading process.
In addition, asking students to examine their own
reading and learning processes creates the awareness
necessary for critical reading.
Post-reading activities that extend
texts provide an opportunity for teachers to check
for learning. Transforming ideas from reading into
artwork, poetry, etc. is an evaluative, interpretive
act that reveals the student's level of understanding.
Critical readers are active readers. They question,
confirm, and judge what they read throughout the reading
process. Students engaged in such activities are likely
to become critical thinkers and learners.
How Do I Sharpen My Critical Reading Strategies?
Reading critically does not mean that
you are criticizing the writer's message but rather
that you are assessing the validity and reliability
of the writer's material. Critical readers are also
aware that they bring their beliefs, values, experiences,
and prior knowledge to the reading process. Critical
readers ask questions about themselves, the writer,
and the writing. Below is a set of questions to sharpen
your critical reading strategies.
Menu of Critical Reading Questions
1. Reader's Background and Value Assumptions
What do I know about the topic?
What are my beliefs and values regarding the topic?
What is my purpose for reading this material?
2. Writer's Background and Value Assumptions
What is the writer's background?
How might it affect the writer's approach to the topic
and the selection and interpretation of the evidence
What are the writer's value assumptions regarding
3. Writer's Argument, Conclusion, and Evidence
What is the topic of the writer's argument?
What is the writer's conclusion?
How has the writer limited the scope of the argument
through definitions of key terms and the use of qualifying
words and phrases?
4. Writer's Use of Evidence to Support the Conclusion
Are there any logical fallacies?
What sort of evidence does the writer use to support
Does the evidence offer adequate support for the writer's
Are the sources creditable?
If the writer uses research studies as evidence, does
the research satisfy these conditions:
Is it timely?
Is the sample group representative of the target population?
Who conducted the research? What was the purpose of
Has the research been replicated?
Are the statistical findings and writer's conclusion
focused on the same topic?
Do the graphic illustrations represent the data in
a truthful manner?
Do the various physical dimensions of the graphic
accurately portray the numerical relationships?
What is the source of the data in the illustration?
Are the statistical findings and the writer's conclusion
focused on the same topic?
5. Reader's Reaction to the Reading
Do I accept the writer's evidence as
reliable and valid support of the conclusion?
To what degree do I accept the conclusion?
How does the conclusion relate to what I already know
and believe about the topic?
How has the writer's argument changed my views on
Reading Error Analysis
Reading Errors-- Language
Lack of prior knowledge
Lack of vocabulary
Lack of figurative comprehension
Difficulty with syntax
Difficulty with pragmatics
Reading Errors-- Visual Processing
Loses place when reading
Reversal of words, letter order, or letters
Omissions, insertions, or substitutions
Omits visual details--punctuation, word parts
Reading Errors-- Word Attack Skills
Failure to attack new words
Difficulty with phonetically regular words
Reading Errors-- Sight Words
Miscalls familiar, service words
Miscalls phonetically irregular words
Errors that aren't corrected
Errors which change the meaning
Errors which change the structure
Lack of phrasing or intonation
Cognitive Reading Strategy Theory
The "information transmission model" that
underlies so many discussions of journalism describes
readers as receiving and decoding information that
arrives through a medium after begin encoded into
a message by a sender. Information is moved around
like canned goods, packaged by the sender, opened
by the receiver. Writers and editors are accustomed
to thinking that they way the write something determines
its meaning. The new theory emphasizes how readers
In the new view, readers are far more
active and unpredictable. They make decisions about
what to read, how to read it, how to think about what
they read, what to remember, what other information
to remember it with. They bring context, approach,
bias, and personal experiences to what they read.
They interpret, they skip, they misread, they misunderstand,
they understand in their own way. Their reading is
not reactive but strategic; they read with purpose,
meaning, and goals. When the society column mentions
that a prominent local family will be going abroad
for the summer, that information is read very differently
by their friends, by the owner of a lawn maintenance
company, and by a burglar.
Readers are said to use two levels of
Cognitive strategies enable the reader to understand
Metacognitive strategies govern the use of cognitive
strategies--enabling one to manage the process of
It is under the heading of "metacognition"
that researchers discuss motivation, focusing attention,
managing time, deciding what to read, along with methods
for reading (such as reading the conclusion first,
looking for key words and summaries, reading for main
ideas, identifying the structure of text, self-questioning,
and reading to remember ).
In practice, the two levels of strategy
work together. Studies have demonstrated that better
readers and learners go about the task more strategically
than others do, which means they have greater conscious
control over what and how they read.
Note that "literacy," in this
view, is defined to include more than the ability
to decode the alphabet and recognize vocabulary words.
usefully structured background knowledge,
skill in handling the different ways text is commonly
the ability to apply appropriate strategies to the
task of reading.
In cognitive theory, there is nothing passive about
reading, and the activity of reading goes far beyond
the "decoding" step of the information-transmission
model. Vaughn epitomized this view with his statement:
"Reading is thinking stimulated by print."
Readers engage nearly every kind of thought process
during reading. Researchers describing reading have
comparing and connecting and organizing ideas
filling blanks in their knowledge structures
arguing with what they read
passing and withholding judgment
hypothesis testing and modification
clarifying, generating questions
agreeing, disagreeing, anticipating
learning new concepts
deciding what is important
making unexpected connections
reflecting, reviewing, comparing
strategies for comprehending words, sentences, segments
of text, conventions of writing and organization.
The strategic activities of readers
are not only highly active and interpretive, they
are recursive and non-linear. Although there are surely
times when readers start with the first word of a
piece and read through sequentially, researchers have
emphasized the extent to which readers (especially
of non-fiction) scan, select, skip, pause, loop back,
and do a considerable amount of rooting around the
page. Indeed, readers not only adopt strategies toward
what they read ("I'll just skim this."),
they test and modify those strategies as they go ("Oops,
this is too important to skim.")
Readers make ready use of nonverbal
cues with they read. They interpret pictures, graphics,
color, charts, symbols, decorations, cartoons, typography,
rules (lines and boxes), spatial relationships (such
as indentation and over/under), recurring positions
and patterns, and other spatial cues.
Paivio and many others have argued that
readers carry on different modes of thinking simultaneously
("multitasking," to use the current computer
term), at least including visual and linguistic modes
of thought. A person's knowledge structure--though
described by many researchers in terms of linguistic
propositions--is sure to contain spatial modes of
What looks from one perspective like
words on a page becomes (when it enters the life of
a reader) an integral part of a rich, multimodal,
imaginatively elaborated inner world. And because
every reader translates the written message into such
a world, we can never know information as information
alone, but only as as it is reflected in a particular,
lived system of meaning.
Schema Reading Strategy Theory
In reading as in all visual perception the eye is
selective. Look at this block of text:
Q Q Q Q Q Q Q
Q Q Q Q P Q Q
Q Q O Q Q Q Q
Q Q Q Q Q Q Q
Q Q Q Q Q Q Q
Most people notice the letter 'P' almost
immediately. But some readers don't notice the 'O'.
This is a simple but powerful illustration of the
selectivity of vision: we usually tend to see what
the general context suggests as most likely to be
present. We rely a great deal on such expectations
to guide our reading.
In the act of reading the eye of the
experienced reader does not simply start at the beginning
of the text and proceed from word to word until it
reaches the end (see separate illustration). It jumps
around the page as the mind searches for organizing
patterns which make the task of reading easier. We
are forever drawing on our past experiences to guide
the ways in which we interpret our present experiences.
The word schema (plural: schemata or
schemas) is used by cognitive psychologists to refer
to a kind of mental template (also called a 'cognitive
structure' or a 'knowledge structure'). Schemata are
stored in long-term memory and are employed when we
interpret our experiences. Many psychological experiments
have shown the importance of our expectations in making
sense of new experiences. Schemata embody such expectations.
According to contemporary schema theory, perception,
comprehension, interpretation and memory are mediated
by schemata. Extremely readable introductions to the
general importance of expectations and theories in
perception and reading can be found in Frank Smith's
various books on reading.
In interpreting situations we observe
or read about, schemata provide general outlines of
phenomena usually associated with similar situations:
typical acts, preconditions, roles, motives, 'props'
and results. According to schema theory, interpreting
events involves mapping the available information
onto an appropriate schema which is already stored
in memory (this applies whether the situation involves
buying something in a shop, reading a story, watching
TV, or whatever). We derive these schemata from our
past experience. Ulrich Neisser provides a simple
cyclical diagram of the general function of schemata
(see separate illustration).
Schemata can be diagrammed as hierarchical
networks of concepts and links. Some commentators
refer to a 'frame', and a schema for events is often
referred to as a "script." Schema theorists
refer to a schema being activated when a feature in
a situation appears to match part of the schema. This
activation involves 'slots' in the schema being 'instantiated'
or 'filled in' with - explicit features of the specific
situation, or - 'default values' where some features
are not explicit. Where particular features are not
explicit, the schema offers those which one would
normally expect in such circumstances (filling in
the slots by inference).
These activities can help students to:
Examine the cover illustration (if there
is one) and read the title of new book. Ask child
to predict what it might be about based on either
the cover picture, the title, or both. If the title
and illustration are not helpful in giving the student
a sense of what the story is about, you can provide
a brief summary of the book. For example, when looking
at a book with a picture of a cat on the front, you
can say: "This story is about a cat that moves
to a new house and has some adventures while trying
to make new friends."
Activating Background Knowledge:
Ask the student to tell you what he
or she knows about the subject of the story or if
he or she has had similar experiences, or heard or
read a story like this or by same author. "You
said you have a cat. Tell me what your cat does all
day and who its friends are. What kind of friends
do you think the cat in this book might find?"
If the topic is totally unfamiliar, reconsider book
choice, or take extra time to build the necessary
background knowledge through some kind of concrete
experiences. For example, if you choose a book about
a farm and the student has never been to a farm you
may want to begin by looking at pictures of farms
and farm animals, and having a brief discussion about
what kinds of things happen on farms: what animals
live there, what things grow on farms, etc.
Conducting Picture Walk:
With Emergent and Early readers conduct
a "Picture Walk" through the book, or chapter,
by covering the print, and encouraging or guiding
the student in a discussion of what could be going
on based on the pictures. If there is vocabulary that
may not be familiar to child such as "cupboard"
or "bonnet" point the words out and explain
them in connection with the pictures and the context
of the story. "You're right, in this picture
the teeny tiny woman is putting on her hat, except
in this book it's called a 'bonnet' (pointing to the
word) which is another word for hat. She is putting
on her teeny tiny bonnet. Do you think she is getting
ready to go somewhere? " In your discussion of
the pictures, be sure to use as much of the actual
book language as possible, especially if there are
repeated patterns or refrains.
Noticing Structure of the text:
Where appropriate, point out or help
the child notice the structure of the text and connect
it with other similarly structured texts heard or
read. "Yes, this is a fairy tale. We've read
several fairy tales together. What do you know about
fairy tales? What have you noticed that is the same
about the three tales we read?"
Forming Purpose for Reading:
Formulate and encourage the student
to come up with two or three predictions or questions
before reading. "This is a story about a boy
who wants a dog, but his mother won't let him have
one. What do you think he is going to do first? Why
do you think that?" "You already know a
lot about dinosaurs. What are some things you want
to find out about them when you start reading this
To Enhance Interest and Comprehension
Engaging students in a dialogue about something they
are about to read can clarify their thinking and help
you find out what they already know or expect from
the material. Questions and discussion also clarify
unerstanding during and after reading. One way to
begin this dialogue is through asking questions that
elicit responses reflecting the student's thoughts
and understandings about the reading.
Too often questions are used only at
the end of reading, asked by the teacher or tutor
to check comprehension. In fact, successful readers
ask themselves questions throughout the reading process.
Beginning readers need modeling and practice to learn
how to do this.
Effective questions encourage real thinking,
not just yes or no answers. Notice too that different
kinds of questions require different ways of finding
Factual or "right there" questions can be
answered with a single word or phrase found right
in the story: "When did the story take place?"
"It was midnight, the 25th of October..."
Inference or "think and search"
questions require finding and integrating information
from several places in the story and relating one's
own knowledge as well. "When did the story take
place?" "The harvest moon hung high in the
sky, shining on the field of ripe orange pumpkins
waiting to be picked for Halloween..." Using
our background knowledge of concepts like "harvest"
and "Halloween" as well as the words "ripe
pumpkins" we figure out that this story takes
place one night in late October, even though those
words aren't used in the text.
"In the head" or "On
my own" questions require bringing in one's own
information, (background knowledge). These can be
answered without reading from the book. "We have
read a lot of fairy tales, what kinds of things usually
happen in fairy tales?" Or, "You told me
you have a cat. What might happen in a story called
Puss in Boots? Do you think it could be true?"'
Remember to focus on the positive aspects of the child's
responses to encourage future attempts.
Questions before reading should help the reader:
Make connections between background
knowledge and the topic of the book: "This book
is about Anansi the Spider: do you remember the other
Anansi book we read? What kind of character is Anansi?
What kinds of things did he do in that story? How
do you suppose he will behave in this book?"
Set a purpose for reading: "Here
is a new book about sea turtles. What are some things
that you would like to learn about these creatures?"
Make predictions: "The title of
this book is The Missing Tooth, (Cole, 1988). Who
do you suppose the two boys on the cover are, and
what do you think this book might be about? What happens
to you when you lose a tooth?"
Questions during reading should help the reader:
Clarify and review what has happened so far: "What
are some of the things that made Arlo and Robby such
Confirm or create new predictions: "Now
that one boy has lost a tooth, so they aren't both
the same, what's going to happen? I wonder if they
will stay friends:"
Critically evaluate the story and make
personal connections: "Could this really happen--that
two good friends could have a fight because one of
them had something the other wanted? How would you
feel if you were Robby? What would you do?"
Make connections with other experiences
or books: "Does this remind you of another story
/ character, what happened in that story? Could that
Monitor the student's reading for meaning
and accuracy: "Did that word 'horned' make sense?
What is a 'horned toad'?"
Questions after reading will help:
Reinforce the concept that reading is
for understanding the meaning of the text, and making
connections: "In this story about Amy's first
day in school how did she feel before going into her
classroom? How did you feel on your first day?"
Model ways of thinking through and organizing
the information they have taken in from reading a
text: "What did Amy's teacher do when she walked
into the classroom? How does Amy feel now? How do
you know that?"
Encourage critical thinking and personal
response: "What do you think might have happened
if the teacher had not done that? Why do you think
the author decided to write this story? Would you
have done what Amy did?"
Build awareness of common themes and
structures in literature: "What other story or
character does this sound like? What parts are the
same? What parts are different?"
The most important thing, however, when talking about
a story with a student is to let them know that their
ideas about what they have read are important and
that you value what they have to say.
* These questioning suggestions are
adapted from: R. Huntsman, 1990; L. Rhodes and C.
Cueing and Self Monitoring Systems
Successful independent reading involves integrating
three sets of cues. Efficient readers use all three
to predict, confirm and self correct as they read.
Meaning or Semantics: Readers use their
background knowledge of vocabulary and word understanding.
They also use the context of the sentence, the paragraph
or the whole text to figure out what the text is about,
and what would make sense. Readers continually evaluate
the information they take in, asking: "Does this
word make sense as I read it?" "Does this
sentence make sense as I read it: 'The girl was a
Syntax or Language Structure: Readers
use their knowledge of English grammar to make sense
of text. Does the sentence sound like real language?
("She went into she house") Does this word
fit grammatically in this sentence?
Visual information or graphophonics:
Readers use information in the text including pictures
and print and other knowledge of print conventions
-format details -details and shapes of letters and
-directionality -voice / print match
-punctuation -letter / sound associations
Helping a Reader Who is Stuck or has Miscued
Beginning and struggling readers often
substitute their own words for those in print. While
we want readers to eventually become accurate readers,
that should not be the primary goal. Making sense
and getting meaning from the text is more important.
Even expert readers sometimes make errors
or substitutions in the text without realizing it.
Unless those substitutions change the meaning, you
don't have to worry about them. Instead of calling
them mistakes or errors, we call them Miscues. A miscue
is any deviation from the text.
Some things for you to keep in mind:
If a miscue doesn't change the meaning,
or changes it only slightly, you can ignore it. "He
rode his bike in /on the road." Try not to jump
in too quickly; wait and give the reader a chance
to self-correct or problem solve. Show confidence
in the child's ability and be available to help.
Some things readers can be encouraged
to do when they are trying to figure out a word or
Direct reader to look at the picture,
or to close eyes and imagine what is happening.
Suggest rereading the sentence or phrase
to clarify the meaning so far. This can help in predicting
the upcoming word, giving the reader more time to
Ask the reader if what he or she just
read made sense; use this information to help the
reader predict what words would "make sense"
or "sound right" in a sentence. Then help
the reader check the print to confirm the prediction.
Beginning readers can be encouraged
to skip over the unknown word and read to the end
of the phrase or sentence, substituting a grunt in
place of the mystery word. "I never ['mmm'] what
to give my mother for her birthday. " This helps
readers use the meaning (context) of the surrounding
words, and sometimes the initial letter(s) to figure
out the problem word.
Ask if reader has seen a word that looks
like the troubling one; or write a similar word, i.e.
if the hard word is "fright", point out
or write down "night. " (Be sure to use
a word that you are sure the child will recognize.)
Helping the child see that a word part is similar
to another known word can help too. A fluent reader
can think "If I know 'her' and 'taps,' I can
figure out 'perhaps'" (assuming she or he has
heard and understands the word).
Tell or ask the child to notice the
word's parts: play-ing; out-side. Help the reader
cover the appropriate part of the word.
LOOK BACK TO PREVIOUS CONTEXT:
Sometimes beginning readers recognize
that they've seen a word somewhere else. Looking back
or identifying the former context can help the reader
recall the word.
After the student figures out a difficult
word, or after he or she self corrects, be sure to
encourage him or her to ask: "Does this make
sense? Does this sound right? Does this look right?"
Once the child is satisfied that the sentence does
make sense, give specific praise for using good strategies
to figure out words. Encouraging students to constantly
ask themselves "Does this make sense?" when
reading reinforces the purpose of reading: we read
to understand the meaning of the text, not simply
to translate the printed letters into spoken words.
Reading Interventions: SORT
Organize--preview, skill development
Test--applied behavior analysis, charting progress
More Reading Strategies
from Breaking Reading Barriers in Grades Four to Twelve
© 1998 by Hicks & Simpson
PURPOSE: To find the structure of a passage, aid comprehension,
and analyze helpful clues.
PREPARATION: Newsprint, Markers, RDP
sheet, Checklist, Post-It notes
At the beginning of the unit, the instructor creates
a list of ten subheadings found in the assigned passage.
The instructor writes each subheading at the top of
a large piece of newsprint, followed by two columns
labeled with the following statements: "What
helped my understanding (+)" and "What hindered
my understanding (-)." Each group of four students
is assigned at least eight paragraphs to read in the
Additionally, the instructor provides
each student with a checklist with the following guidelines
printed on it:
Keep the author's purpose in mind.
Use clues that tell the structure of the passage (e.g.transitional
Break sentences down and understand the parts before
Look up any words that keep you from understanding
the author's message.
The students number their assigned paragraphs
in the passage from one to eight. As they read, three
concepts about which they have background knowledge
and three unknown concepts are found and are marked
with Post-It notes in the text.
The groups of four convene and put their
combined concepts on the char under the positive or
negative column, depending on whether or not they
had prior knowledge about this concept (+) or whether
they did not have any prior knowledge (-). After the
charts are complete, the groups discuss the teens
and collectively decide on the author's purpose for
their assigned passage. Each group then writes one
finished statement on an overhead transparency that
states the author's purpose and the issue in question.
The + and - terms written on the newsprint and the
author's purpose are shared with the whole class.
Criteria is set for grading clarity (precision of
explanation) and completeness (extent of content covered).
Another Perspective ....Reading strategies
Anticipating information in the text
Looking at the 'big' picture
Looking at the title
Examining the format
Accepting approximate meaning of words
Looking for familiar words
Looking at grammatical endings
Finding the subject of the sentence
Considering the organization of the text
Looking for discourse markers
Looking for words that refer to other words
Rereading segments of the text
Jotting down unfamiliar words
Looking up words in a dictionary
Continuing to read on with partial understanding
Deciding how well the text needs to be understood
Read a paragraph.
Ask yourself "what are the main ideas in the
Put the main idea and details in your own words.
Language Experience (self-selected)
Whole Language (naturally ocurring)
Basal Readers (standard English)
Linguistic (phonics-whole to part)
Synthetic Phonics (phonics-part to whole)