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Reading Effectively

Updated: Feb 7, 2020

Last summer, we had the great pleasure of setting up a table under a gazebo in our back garden and sat around it teaching techniques in our four key areas to some great children between the ages of seven and twelve.

One of our technique sessions in the gazebo

It was hard work putting together the four two-hour courses for Memory, Observation, Reading Effectively and Thinking (which we then delivered multiple times). Of these, by far the toughest to write was Reading Effectively. But, to our surprise, the questionnaires at the end showed it was the one our students found most useful.

So, what are we trying to teach when we produced a course on Reading Effectively?

Firstly, we want to make it clear what we are not trying to teach. Namely, speed reading. This is not because we don’t believe in it; quite the opposite. It is because we are not experts in it. There are plenty of online courses that specialise in teaching speed reading (as well as a pile of books on the subject) and, if you are interested, you should Google those.

No, what we are trying to do is to get children to read as efficiently as possible. That way they are able to do their school work as effectively as they can, with as little wasted time as possible. That comes down to:

  • understanding the question they need to answer

  • wondering where to find the information they need

  • exploring how best to memorise the information they need

  • exploring how to efficiently extract that information from their sources

  • ranking the most likely sources they guess the information might be in

  • doing the reading, note-taking and other memorisation

  • doing the finished school work

  • evaluating how they have done, including how well they have memorised and understood it

If you think this sounds a bit like something where you could use QWERTY®, you would be absolutely right and we'll show you how in the following blogs.

We want to give our target group (and older children, too) the reading skills and strategies they need to extract from textual sources the information required to do their schoolwork and, in time, commit to memory any of it they need for national examinations. Therefore, we aim to:

  • help the child plan where to look for information

  • teach them skills to efficiently extract the information they need

  • show them how to structure their learning to better retain what they have discovered

The first thing to do is to identify whether a learner's plan should be to read for information or read for understanding. The Six Honest Men will help with this. Frequently, when they have to read as part of schoolwork, it will be to answer a specific question. The question type can help determine the strategy a learner should use:

  • who, what, where, or when questions indicate that the learner should probably be reading for information, as they'll be seeking out a name, an event, a place or a date

  • why and how mean the child is more likely to need to read for understanding, as s/he will probably need to comprehend the subject in more depth to answer these types of question

Six Honest Men: Who, What, Where, When, Why and How

If none of the six honest men are present, learners should try and reword the question to see which one would fit best. That will give them a clue how to proceed.

Basically, reading for information is what's needed for straightforward comprehension activities, whereas reading for understanding is more for a discursive essay, project or opinion piece.

Another technique to use before even starting a reading task is Remember Research Remember (we'll expand on this technique in a forthcoming blog). In the meantime, you should know that it is a priming strategy with three stages, as might be surmised from the title. Memory activities sandwich the actual reading to ensure the learners are identifying the best part(s) of the text for what they need and can recall key information afterwards.

Remember Research Remember - a priming strategy to make any reading more effective

It works like this:

1. Before starting any non-fiction reading, get the learner to spend a little time (a few seconds to a minute or two) just bringing to mind what they already know about the subject that they are going to read about. That will help them identify keywords. It also reminds them what they know already, which will provide helpful hooks on which to hang any new knowledge.

2. Read, using the right strategy for the type of text they are working with (e.g. skimming, scanning, top-and-tailing etc.).

3. The learners should then try to remember what they have just read, trying to summarise it in their own words and making links to previous knowledge.

Priming is a core skill. It enables the learner to extract the maximum information from the text (in the shortest time available) while starting them on the path to long term memory retention.

Reading Effectively requires skills from all the other areas, particularly Thinking and Memory. To these it adds a set of skills of its own. Like Observation, the Reading syllabus is all about working out how best to accomplish a goal, only with Reading it is finding OUT something rather than just FIND something. So, right from the off, we want people to think how best to accomplish their goals, and that means using QWERTY® to plan a strategy.

So where does Reading Effectively fit in to the Got-A-Head®? curriculum as a whole?

If you looked at how our curriculum fits together, you would get this sort of shape

We start off with Memory and Thinking skills and then introduce Observation and Reading Effectively a little bit later. In practice, we don’t want to teach all of Thinking and all of our Memory skills before starting Observation and Reading Effectively. As we have said repeatedly, we don't want to teach our four core elements in silos, as there is huge synergy between them. We want the different elements to work together. That means teaching bits of each subject at the same time or in concert.

Thus, what we are actually going to do is break up the curriculum into stages so that we will teach enough Memory and Thinking to do a part of Reading Effectively and Observation. Then we will teach more Memory and Thinking, enough to do the next elements of Reading Effectively and so on as shown in the diagram below.

The four core elements have great synergy between them

The more we can engage all four core elements in a task, the better the final outcome is likely to be.

At Got-A-Head®? our aim isn't to teach reading - there are plenty of other websites out there that will do that. We want to teach your child to read effectively, so that they think about what they are doing and what they need and come up with a strategy to succeed. We will also ensure that once they've found the information or new knowledge, the learners will have techniques and strategies to help commit it to memory.

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