Prereading & Rereading Skills for Comprehension

Instructor: Karen Harker

Karen has taught high school English and has a master's degree in Shakespearean Studies

This lesson will provide helpful prereading and rereading skills to aid in increasing comprehension and retention of information for fictional and nonfictional texts.

Prereading inquiry and postreading reflection

Sometimes it's difficult to understand a text when first reading it. Understanding the main idea, or central point of a piece of writing, can often be aided by preparing questions before you read. This will help to keep you focused on the passage and encourage inquiry, or your own questions and curiosities, about the passage at hand. One strategy that can help with creating personal inquiry is something known as a KWL chart, which can be seen below.

KWL chart

Prereading inquiry

The first two columns, the 'K' and the 'W', are meant to be filled out before reading the given text. 'K' stands for 'know', so in this section, you write the things you already know about a given topic. For example, if the topic of a non-fiction, or factual, text was dolphins, you might write down facts you've learned about dolphins in the past, such as 'dolphins live in the ocean'. You could also write down encounters you may have had with dolphins, such as 'I saw a dolphin at the aquarium' or 'I watched a TV show about how dolphins communicate by making funny noises.' This is meant to be a brainstorming session where you write down anything and everything about dolphins that pops into your head!

If you are reading a fictional text, such as a poem, play, short story, or novel, this same process can be used, too. For example, if you are reading Romeo and Juliet, you can write down anything you might know or have heard about the story or author. These might be facts about the author, characters, setting, or famous quotes. Examples of these facts might be 'William Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet' or 'Romeo and Juliet loved each other very much but die in the end'. Remember there is no way to do this wrong! This activity just gives you time and space to consider things you already know about a given subject.

Once you've written down everything you know about the reading subject in the 'K' column, it is time to move onto the 'W'. 'W' stands for 'what do you want to know?', so in this section, you'll generate questions about what you want to learn by reading the text. Often, you can base these questions on what you already know. To continue our example about dolphins, you might ask the question, 'How is life different for dolphins in the ocean versus the aquarium?' or 'What is the name of the funny noises dolphins make to communicate?' Similarly, example questions for Romeo and Juliet might be 'How do Romeo and Juliet fall in love?' or 'How and why do Romeo and Juliet die?'

Postreading reflection

The final column of the chart ('L') stands for 'Learning', so this is the space where you can reflect on the questions you've asked in the 'W' column, and the learning you took away from the reading. Remember that you don't complete this part of the chart until after you've finished reading the passage. It is okay if all of your questions in the 'W' section are not answered after reading the passage. Sometimes, answering those questions takes further research and reading in order to find answers. Also, you may learn things that aren't related to any of the questions you've asked in the 'W' column. That's okay, too. The 'L' column simply helps you to reflect on and write down the information you learned while reading. Writing these things down can help you to remember them better and connect them to your own personal inquiries.

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