The ins and outs of pre-reading

In a recent student meeting with one of my college students, we focused our time on preparing for a writing assignment (write a rhetorical essay) based on an assigned reading (a case study about a woman who was terminated from her job after posting a disparaging remark on social media). 

Many times, such as this one, starting an assignment can be tricky and can even seem insurmountable.  Our materials or our thoughts may be disorganized, we might find the assignment unclear, or our motivation may be stalled.  Whatever the case, pre-reading a reading assignment and breaking down the task at hand can be a great starting point to accomplishing your task!

So, we rolled up our sleeves, pulled up the case study, and got to work.  Here are the steps we followed:

  • Organize your materials:
    • Are you a pen and paper type of person, or do you prefer to read from a screen?  Match your materials to your preferences and set up your space accordingly.  Pull up your reading passage + writing assignment so that they are within an arm’s reach.
    • Has your professor provided a writing prompt?  Are there specific questions to answer?  Highlight these questions, create an outline, and copy/paste these questions right into that outline.
  • Review the questions provided:
    • Are they straightforward?  Are any of them unclear?  Are there questions you’d like to add?  Write them down, too.
  • Pretend you’re an athlete and do some warm-up:  
    • Check out the title.  What do you already know about this topic?  For this student, case studies were a new type of reading.  
    • Take a moment to think about the reading’s structure and do some quick research.  Some questions we asked were:
      • What is a case study?  
      • What can I learn from this paper to guide my writing?  
      • Why does my professor think this is an important piece to read and write about?   
  • Make friends with the abstract or introduction + conclusion
    • What information do they provide?  
    • Are there questions or points they highlight, such as key findings?
    • Can you add any of this information to your outline?
  • Review each of the headings:
    • Create questions from these headings.  You can use these questions to guide your closer reading.
    • How do these headings connect with the questions posed by your professor?  Is there information you can add to your working outline?
  • Dive into the reading itself
    • Work to answer the questions that your professor has raised and pull out key points you’ve recognized, which you can use in your paper. 
    • Add these findings, along with page numbers for easy citations, to your outline.

Investing the time in pre-reading can feel unnecessary, but it will save you time in the end.  You’ll be able to identify key points more easily, because you have primed your brain to take in this information.  And, because you’ve taken the time to connect this information with your prior knowledge, you will be able to access the details more readily during the writing process and in future class discussion. 

Do you have questions about creating effective and individualized reading strategies?  Please reach out to schedule a consultation at danaroseroth at gmail dot com.

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