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Reading for Information

Updated: Feb 7, 2020

As we said in Reading Effectively, our aim is to help 8-to-14-year-olds to read as efficiently as they can so their school work is done as effectively as possible, without wasting time. This blog explains the main strategy we would suggest learners adopt to effectively Read for Information, when the learner has to find a one word or single sentence answer to a question. For example, they might have been asked “Who was King of England in 890 AD?” (yes, this is a deliberately tricky question). We'll include a detailed practical example so you can see exactly how to go about it.

Getting her teeth into reading for information

The ultimate technique for the learner to adopt for Reading Effectively is QWERTY®, which is a staged thinking plan that will help the learner select the correct strategies to use for this particular task.

Question is the first stage of QWERTY®. After trying to remember what they already know about this particular question’s subject, the learners need to decide whether they know enough about it to understand what they have to find or will need to read for understanding first, in order to have enough background knowledge to understand the question they have been set.

Thinking about the Six Honest Men, we used it first to determine whether they were reading for information or for understanding. We can use it again now to highlight the specific nature of the information they are trying to find. Is it a person, a thing, a date or a place? Remember, if the question is a Why or How then they might need more information to be able to answer it, getting more understanding of the topic first.

Wonder is the next stage. It's the 'blue sky thinking' element, where the learners should consider as many possibilities as they can without getting bogged down in practicalities. Some Forget-Me-Nots that could prove useful at this stage are:

  • Axes to Grind where they should decide whether the question is difficult or simple and if they will find the answer in an easy book, or whether they need to look in a text with more depth

  • MORE Information: Memory, Observation, Research, and Enquiry (asking people) to help them think of where they might find the necessary information

Axes to Grind helps them decide which texts would me most suitable for the reading task

When they are Wondering, they should also be considering:

  • where they might find what they need to know. Which books might have the information? Are websites a good place to look? Are there any other texts that could help (e.g. letters or documents)?

  • what keywords would act as signposts to finding the required information in a text.

  • how the information might be presented. In a table? On a map? In a diagram? Embedded in a text? What would be the best format to look for?

The next stage is Explore, where the learner starts to fine-tune the possibilities about where best to look. This is where they should:

  • use keywords in web searches, remembering not to use a single search engine. Have they discovered any useful sites?

  • look at any books they found. Do their keywords appear in the index, table of contents, chapter headings or in any lists of diagrams or pictures (sometimes called figures)?

Now they have some very real and viable possibilities, they need to Rank their possible sources of the information. They should Anticipate which sources look most useful, so they can go to the likeliest places first.

Anticipate encourages the learners to consider the likelihood of things

The 'T' in QWERTY® stands for Target. This is where the learners put their planned strategies into action. This should include:

  • searching the possible sources they have identified one by one until they get the information they need

  • looking up tables, diagrams or illustrations in those sources to see if they can spot the required information quickly without needing to go through dense text

  • skimming websites or pages they located from the index to find their keywords, before reading the text at normal speed to extract the required information

  • in longer sources, top-and-tailing likely chapters to find possible locations for the information they need before starting a keyword search in the body of the text

  • recording the answer properly

YaY! is the evaluate and review element of QWERTY®. They should consider whether:

  • they found the required information

  • there might be a quicker way to find it

  • they could have improved anything about their search

  • they could have changed anything about how they went about it

  • how they might remember anything new they discovered

So, let's use a practical example to see what we mean by all of that. Suppose our 9-year-old daughter needs to know “Who was king of England in 890 AD?”

On the face of it, this isn’t a difficult Question. Most people know what a king is and have heard of England. Most people would probably guess that 890 is a year, and know AD.

Her first task would be to Wonder where she might find the information or what keywords to use. Good keywords might be “King of England 890” or “kings of England list”. Obviously, a web search should bring up all the information she needs. Unfortunately, she often neglects to charge her tablet, so she might have to look in a book. Luckily, her Dad likes his history so there may be books around the house.

We might have just one or two books in which to look for information...

When it comes to Explore, the question sounds very easy, and not too deep, so she's sure that a quick web search should suffice. Remember, it's good practice to use more than one search engine, as they may well bring up different web pages.

We get the following for the two searches be “King of England 890”

And “kings of England list”

As regards hard copy, in a two-minute search around the living room she would find The Mammoth book of British Kings and Queens and A History of Britain 3000BC to 1603.

Two hard copy options

She's now got 8 different possibilities to choose from, all of which sound reasonably viable. She probably won't need them all, particularly on a straightforward task like this, so it's all about choosing which source will give her the right king quickest, hence the need to rank them. If speed is the preferred criteria, the list web sites would probably come top, then possibly The Mammoth book of British Kings and Queens (although it is quite big it may have a list), then the Wikipedia entry for “Alfred the Great” who might be our man.

We're on to Target: she's putting her plan into action. Things start well, but then go badly. The List of English monarchs starts with Alfred the Great, as we suspected from the web search results. The only problem is that a quick reading of the first paragraph reveals that he wasn’t a king of England, but the king of the Angles and Saxons from 886 AD. The second list starts at 924 AD, so that doesn’t help. The Historic UK site makes it clear that Alfred only ruled part of England. But the 1st and 3rd web site both make it clear that Alfred the Great was the ancestor of people who did call themselves Kings of England.

Okay, it’s probably worth moving from websites to hard copy, namely the book British Kings and Queens. A quick look at the table of contents reveals that it has a very helpful time chart on page xi. That reveals the problem. In 890 there were 10 independent kingdoms and earldoms in what is now England. There was no fully united England of which to be king until 960.

Yay! is the last element of QWERTY®, but is absolutely not an afterthought; it's a key part of the process. The learner needs to Review, Evaluate and Feedback on what they've learned (the Forget-Me-Not REF is very useful reminder of this).

Obviously this particular example of reading for information was a bit contrived, in that we asked a deliberately unanswerable question on a subject where we guessed we’d have some useful books lying around to help. However, that aside, we didn’t know what the web searches would throw up, nor exactly what books were in our lounge.

The Question and Wonder stages took a couple of minutes. To come to the conclusion required four web searches, with a few minutes to copy the links. Finding the books took two minutes. Only three paragraphs needed to be read on the web sites, and two tables needed to be consulted. In the hard copy book, one quick look at the table of contents was followed by a minute to find the table, and then probably two or three minutes to make sense of the very complicated situation.

Using QWERTY® to find the answer to what was in practice a very tricky question took ten minutes. But the key thing it did was to cut down trying to read unnecessary text. It made the search for information extremely efficient.

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