By Carol C. Wood Founder & CEO Total Learning Concepts, Inc.
The ability to understand what is read is one of the most important skills for a student to have to be successful in school. Since so much of what students learn is done so through reading textbooks, outside reading, notes, or written work, it is essential for them to perfect this skill! There are several simple strategies that middle and high school students can be taught, then subsequently drilled and practiced, to improve their rate of reading, along with their comprehension. They are previewing, skimming, and clustering. (These strategies are appropriate for students whose levels of reading abilities are on or above their grade level in school.)
When the reading assignment is long and heavy and a student needs to have a general idea of the content, previewing is helpful. Students can obtain as much as half of the comprehension in less reading time. To preview, here is the technique: Read the entire first two paragraphs of the content. Then read only the first sentence of the next successive paragraphs, followed by entirely reading the last two paragraphs. Previewing gives a quick overall view of long unfamiliar material.
For short and light reading, skimming is effective in obtaining a review of the material that is to be read. Following is how to skim: Pretend your eyes are like magnets being drawn to only the key words in each line of text. Move your eyes fast across each line of text on each page. Skimming will give a good idea of the content in about half the words read and in less than half the time it would take to read each word of the passage. Remember, however, that previewing and skimming will only give a general idea about the content and only about 50% comprehension.
The last strategy is clustering, which can help students increase their speed and comprehension. Most of us learned to read by looking at one word at a time, which is ideal when words have a special meaning or for reading a contract. However, word by word reading is not ideal for reading faster. Clustering trains students to look at a group of words at once. Here is how to cluster: Train your eyes to see all of the words in clusters of up to 3 or 4 words at a glance, which is not something your eyes will do naturally. You must practice consistently to improve this technique. Pick something light to read and do so as fast as you can, concentrate on seeing 3 to 4 words at once rather than one word at a time. Then, reread the piece at a normal rate, word by word, to determine what information was missed the first time. Try a second reading passage and read by clustering the first time and then reread again at a normal rate, word by word, to see what was missed. Practice doing this about 15 minutes each day with different reading passages and this technique will improve. Not only will a student’s rate of reading increase, but so will his or her comprehension.
With sufficient practice of previewing, skimming and clustering, students will be able to handle more reading at school in less time, and perhaps, they may even begin to enjoy reading more!