Picture yourself as a reader. You relax in a comfortable chair for a few moments with a magazine, perhaps the latest National Geographic. As you thumb through the pages, you encounter an article that describes the excavation of the ancient city of Ashkelon.
The title page captures your attention: historic figures such as Samson, Goliath, Herod, Alexander the Great, and Richard the Lion-Hearted may have once walked the streets of this forgotten city.
Immediately your mind begins to make associations as to what you remember about each of these people-Biblical characters, a Greek conqueror, an English Crusader. Although you have never heard of Ashkelon, you begin to place it both historically and geographically.
You predict that the excavation is taking place somewhere in the Middle East, and as you read on, a map showing the location of the site on the Mediterranean coast of Israel confirms your prediction.
An illustration of how this city might have looked piques your imagination; you daydream momentarily of wandering this exotic walled city in centuries BC. As you read about the archeologists carefully digging through the layers of the ruins, you visualize yourself, Indiana Jones-like, making amazing finds. A photograph of a Roman mosaic triggers a memory of a similar mosaic that you once viewed in a museum.
Questions start occurring to you. What happened to this city? Who destroyed it? Who were the people who lived here? What was their culture like? You read on to find out.
As you finish the article, you piece together some thoughts. Ashkelon is a fascinating archaeological find because it features remnants from a number of important ancient cultures: Canaanite, Philistine, Phoenician, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Muslim, and Crusader.
You generalize why this is so: the city was situated in a key strategic location for the ancient Mediterranean world. You also infer from suggestions in the article that the historic site is in jeopardy because of the rising sea level. As you close the magazine you reflect on whether global warming or some other phenomenon is causing this significant geographic change.
What you have been doing in the above scenario is what proficient readers do as a matter of habit when they read. You make connections between what you already know and new material. These connections tap into prior knowledge, which helps you understand new information and establish your interest and motivation for reading a specific text.
You pose questions to yourself as you read because you are curious and you realize that questioning helps you sort through information and make sense of it. You visualize as you read, using your imagination to help you picture in your mind what an author represents in prose.
You are able to differentiate key ideas and information from details so that you are not overwhelmed by a mass of facts. Instead, you target main themes and salient details. You make inferences, as you “read between the lines,” which deepens your appreciation of the information detailed in the article. As a result, you are able to make generalizations and draw conclusions from this text.
If you had encountered problems while you were reading-unfamiliar vocabulary perhaps, or references to information about which you knew very little – you would have paused to make a determination whether to adjust your reading or to use additional strategies to make sense of the unclear passage.
As you can see, proficient readers use a number of effective strategies to guide and enhance their comprehension. While you may take them for granted, these strategies are not necessarily routine for many children learning to read.
Teaching these strategies to students involves frequent modeling of them. Children also need plenty of opportunities to practice these strategies with a variety of fictional and nonfictional materials.