If your students struggle with reading assignments—whether for book reports, tests, or general study and research—introduce them to the following five-step procedure for reading punctually and effectively. (You may need to practice it yourself!)
1. Count. Confirm the number of days you have for completing the reading assignment, and the number of pages the assignment will cover. This is easy if the assignment is short and involves specific material chosen in advance. Otherwise, you may want to add extra days to allow for weekends or (if required to choose your own reading) for selecting the material. And if the project involves books that vary in words per page (or online material without set page divisions), juggle the definition of “pages” to make each mini-section roughly the same length.
2. Divide. Once you have a final count for number of pages and number of days, divide the former by the latter to find your pages-per-day assignment. For example, if you have twenty pages to read in five days, you’ll cover four pages per day. If it doesn’t divide evenly—say you start with thirty pages and eight days—make it four pages per day for the first six days, and three pages on each of the last two days. (It’s best to do the larger sections first, to leave time for unexpected delays.)
3. Mark. Note the specific pages you will read each day (and the time each day you will start). Mark off each daily section with paper clips or bookmarks—or, for computerized reading, electronic bookmarks or separate notes kept with the reader/monitor.
4. Read. Now comes the easy part: the actual reading. Stick to your calendar and read, each day, as far as the next section division. However, there’s one more thing to do at the same time:
5. Record. As you read, jot down briefly the key points: plot, character, theme, and setting for fiction; argument, theme, and people/issues for nonfiction. (You can use sticky notes, an e-tablet, or a separate notebook—anything you feel comfortable with and can keep where it will remain easy to find.) Note what jumps out at you and what is mentioned multiple times. You needn’t take extensive notes at this stage; indeed, it’s better if you don’t, lest important points get lost in a sea of minor details. You can always skim back over the reading later and fill in supporting points under the “key points” outline.
Do encourage your students (and yourself!) to tweak this procedure according to their individual inclinations. Many people prefer to read for a set number of minutes, or to the next natural stopping point in the text, and get frustrated with the divide-exclusively-by- pages approach. Others are reluctant to start, but find it easy to read the whole thing in one sitting once they get going. There’s nothing wrong with any of the above, so long as your approach meets both key criteria:
• Do you have adequate time to finish the whole thing without rushing?
• Are you registering the key points, in writing and mentally?
If so, you’ll put down the book with everything you need to ace your report or test!