Happy Read Across America Day! In celebration of this festive effort to build a nation of readers, we’re going to look past the obvious why and address the how: how can a person read more effectively?
Reading, believe it or not, is a skill, one that improves with practice. So if you want to read faster while understanding what you are reading, read every day. And while you’re reading, focus on three specific comprehension skills:
1. Always focus on the purpose of the piece.
When we read fiction, we focus on the story. When we read non-fiction, however, we might not be sure what we’re reading for. Tailor your reading style to the task at hand:
Pleasure reading: take your time and focus on the story; have fun
Academic reading: take notes and determine what you need to know or memorize
Business reading: read efficiently, focusing on main ideas
2. Separate the main idea from the details
Many academic struggles can be traced back to reading difficulties, specifically the inability to separate main ideas from supporting details. Remember that, at least in works of well-written non-fiction, every paragraph represents one main idea. Yet, most well-written paragraphs consist of more than one sentence. Since you will find, at most, one thesis sentence per paragraph, learn to discriminate between thesis and support.
In essence, if you can accurately recognize the main idea of each paragraph of an article, you can infer–an utterly essential reading skill–the thesis of the article as a whole. This matters, because the only real reason to read an article in the first place is to understand what the author wrote it to say.
3. Little words matter more than big words
At Chariot Learning, we work primarily with high school students preparing for college. Is anyone surprised that even the best and brightest of these teens rarely have college-level vocabularies? Of course, very few teens read long-form (longer than a tweet or blog post) writing anymore, which translates to a more circumscribed command of language.
Reading regularly is the path to expanded eloquence, but limited vocabulary need not limit understanding when reading even the most technical writing. When buried under bombast and prolixity (like this), focus instead on the easy transition words authors use to connect ideas. Simple conjunctions like and, but, or because make all the difference in understanding how different ideas relate. Miss the transition, and you miss the meaning.
The phenomenal benefits of effective reading skills makes this effort mandatory for just about anyone. Why wait? If you don’t enjoy reading by yourself, read to someone else. As the immortal Dr. Seuss said, “You’re never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read with a child.”