Do you get to the bottom of a page and realize you’ve been daydreaming? It happens to everybody at some point or another: you’ve got too little time or too little interest to spend another minute with Homer or Shakespeare. Fortunately, learning to read smartly and take good notes will make the reading a whole lot easier, faster, and much more fun. See Step 1 for more information.
- Make reading fun by getting yourself a snack or a drink and getting comfortable. Burn a nice-smelling candle or read in the tub to make yourself as comfortable, and make reading as enjoyable as possible, especially if it’s not something you’re excited about reading.
2. Skim first and then read closely. If you’re reading something difficult, don’t worry too much about spoiling the ending for yourself. If you read a paragraph and have to start the paragraph over, consider skimming over the whole story, or flipping through the book somewhat to get a sense of the plot, the main characters, and the tone of the reading, so you’ll know what to focus on as you read more closely.
- Taking a look at Cliff’s Notes or reading about the book online can be a good way to get a good summary of the reading to help you get through it more easily. Just don’t forget to go back and read through more closely.
3. Picture what you’re reading. Think of yourself as a movie director and picture the action while you’re reading it. Cast the movie with actors, if it helps, and really try to picture the events as realistically as possible. This can be a lot more fun, and it will help you remember and understand what you are reading a lot better.
- Always try reading poetry out loud. Reading The Odyssey becomes a much more awesome experience when you invoke the muse aloud.
- In school, having looked up an unfamiliar word or concept will always win you bonus points. It’s a good thing to get in the habit of doing.
- Don’t underline or highlight too much, and definitely don’t highlight random passages because you think it’s expected. It won’t help you to go back through and study if you’ve just highlighted randomly, and it’ll make your text a lot more difficult to go back through.
8. Write a few sentences of summary at the bottom of each page. If you’re reading something difficult and find yourself often wanting to go back to get something you missed, start taking it one page at a time. At the end of each page, or even at the end of each paragraph, write a brief summary of what happened on that page. This’ll break up the reading and allow you to go through it with much more careful attention.
9. Write down questions that you have about what you read. If you find something confusing, or you notice something that’s giving you difficulty, always write it down. This might give you a good question to ask later in class, or give you something to think more about as you continue reading.
10. Write your reaction. When you finish reading, immediately start writing down your reactions to the story, the book, or the chapter from the book you needed to read. Write about what seems important, what you think the purpose of the writing was, and how it made you feel as a reader. You don’t need to summarize it for a response, but you might find it helpful to summarize in general if it will help you remember what you’ve read more.
- Don’t write whether or not you liked the story, or whether you thought it was “boring.” Instead, focus on how it made you feel. Your first response might be, “I didn’t like this story, because Juliet dies at the end,” but think about why you feel that way. Why would it have been better if she had lived? Would it have? What might Shakespeare have been trying to say? Why did he kill her off? This is a much more interesting reaction now.
11. Think of open-ended questions to explore the reading. Write down some questions in your notebook that might make interesting discussion questions to bring up in class. Some teachers will make this an assignment, but it will help you to engage with your reading anyway.
- Don’t ask questions that can be answered with a “yes” or a “no.” Learning to ask “how” is a helpful way of coming up with big discussion questions.
12. Mark important pages with post-it notes. If you have a question later, it can help if you’ve got the page you want to talk about or ask a question about marked already, rather than having to spend ten minutes trying to remember where Polonius’ big line was.
13. Put yourself in the characters’ shoes. What would you have done if you were Juliet? Would you have liked Holden Caulfield if he was in your class? What would it have been like to be married to Odysseus? Talk about it with others who have read the same book. How do different people answer the same question? Learning to put yourself into the reading and interact with the text is a good way of experiencing it and understanding it. Think yourself into the book.