When you’re browsing articles about becoming a better reader, you’ll frequently get this advice: be an active reader. But how do you become an active reader? What is an active reader, anyway? Active readers think about what they’re reading while they’re reading it. But what should you think about? Here are eight ways to get you thinking while you’re reading.
1. React to what you’re reading
Try to empathize with the figures in the reading. How would you feel if you were in their situation? If you can’t imagine yourself in their place, ask yourself why. Would you do something different? Do you think they’re making a mistake?
For nonfiction works (without intriguing characters), were you surprised with any facts? Why were you surprised by them? Are you satisfied with the author’s explanations? Do you think there’s any information or viewpoints the author is neglecting to tell you? Read on, keeping your concerns in mind, and see if the author can convince you.
2. Discern the characters’ motivations
Why do you think the characters are acting the way they are? Intelligently guess what motivates them. You can do the same for nonfiction. When you’re reading a newspaper, for instance, think about the persons quoted. Why do you think they’re saying what they are?
3. Make predictions
Does anything seem out of place? Any characters acting strangely? Not in line with how you would expect them to behave? Maybe it’s a clue. By making predictions, you’ll become more invested in the text and willing to continue. If you turn out to be wrong, ask yourself what led you astray.
4. Home in on confusing passages
Reread any confusing passages; don’t just skip over them. What’s specifically unclear to you? Reread the sentence or paragraph slowly, thinking about why you don’t understand it. Still puzzled? The author may be being intentionally coy. Read on, keeping your question in mind. It may even be a reference to events or circumstances that have yet to be revealed.
Of course, sometimes authors obfuscate the text just to seem clever. If you can’t understand the passage after several read-throughs, don’t feel bad. Move on.
5. Use your imagination
Picture the scene and characters the writer has created in your head. Every time the author gives a hint of detail, make sure you add it to your scene. Try to include all the senses: sight, sound, taste, touch and smell. Of course, for the sake of your imagination, you don’t always have to sacrifice your vision to the author’s. But do make a special note of the author’s description.
6. Read every word
Pay attention to every word you’re reading. It’s easy to skim, but you may lose key details. If you feel yourself skimming, pay attention to what you’re breezing by. Do you notice any trends? Do you have a habit of rushing through scenic descriptions? Dialogue? Philosophical meanderings? Make note of your trouble spots, so you can ensure that you’ll try extra hard to keep your attention focused the next time you come across them.
7. Critique the writing style
Pay attention to the writer’s descriptions, similes, metaphors, dialogue, etc. What do they do best? What do they do worst? Do you notice any trends in their writing? For instance, do they always end a chapter with a twist? Are conversations in short bursts or do the characters always deliver long speeches?
8. Compare your reading to other works you’ve read
How is this text different from your other readings? How is it similar? Do you like it better or worse than comparable works? Are there any similar themes to other works? Does it encourage you to read more books within this genre?
Of course, these eight points are merely suggestions to get you started. Obviously, there are countless ways to think about what you’re reading. The important thing is that you are thinking while reading, not simply being a sponge. Active reading will help you remember what you’ve read and help you commit to finishing the work.