Reading actively requires some work on your part. It requires you to be alert and, if not well-rested, at least well-fed! To read actively means that you, the reader, are actively engaging with another human being, with voices from the past. Many of the words and even ideas in the books we read will be foreign to you and it takes effort to figure out just what the author is saying to you about God, man and nature.
Reading actively requires that you read with a pencil in your hand. Hopefully you will have your own copies of the works to be read so that you may write directly in the text. If not, you MUST have paper beside you as well. Reading actively means that you not only engage with the text, but that you DO NOT TURN THE PAGE until you understand everything on that page. For some this takes little or no time, for others this will take a lot of time, but it is worth it! One of the best ways to read actively is to annotate the text: ‘annotating’ simply means taking notes as you read. It is a way to add commentary and explanatory notes. Annotating is not a passive activity like highlighting. Annotating helps you stay involved with the text as you read.
Annotation can be used in many different ways. Ways to annotate include:
- Your reactions to characters and events
- Definitions of unfamiliar words and phrases
- Note literary elements (classical and biblical allusions, irony, symbol, metaphor etc.)
- Connections between this story and another you have read–especially the Bible
- Write short summaries at the end of chapters, or even pages regarding setting, plot development and characters
- Write down questions you have about the story
- Answers to your questions (at least attempts)
- Note chapter headings/titles as there are often clues there
- What is the author saying about God, man, nature?
- Is any of it true?
- Inferences and guesses about the author’s worldview
- Favorite passages
- Theme: What is the story REALLY about?
- Patterns or repetition (words, phrases, events)
- Conflict: What are the issues at stake?
When reading actively it is important to see the story in your head. If your eyes are merely moving over the words, you are skimming, NOT reading. It is also important to THINK about the reading when you have finished. What just happened? Did you learn anything new? Are there parallels in the story to your own life? To other works you have read? Did you enjoy the reading? Why or why not?
Reading actively will raise your quiz and test grades, will enrich your vocabulary, will improve your reading and writing skills, and will make you a student who is ready to engage in rich and worthwhile class discussions: a student who has something to add to a conversation that has been going on, in some cases, for thousands of years.