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What, Why, and How?
1
CRITICAL READING
While Reading Strategies
Identifying Topics, Main, Major and Minor Ideas
Annotating
Chunking
Words Parts and Context Clues
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TOPIC, MAIN IDEA AND
THE MAJOR/MINOR IDEAS IN A TEXT?
WHY IDENTIFY THEM WHEN READING?
- You can fully understand a text when you can identify all its elements.
- It removes any confusion about the purpose of a text.
- When you can clearly see the different parts of a text, you can make a more educated
assessment of the text and directly respond with your own viewpoints.
HOW DO I IDENTIFY THEM?
Here is a 4-step process to identify these different elements in a text:
(1) Note the topic as you’re reading. To figure out the topic, note what all the sentences in
the text are centered on and use the guiding question: What specific topic does this text
focus on?
(2) Label the main idea when you find it. To locate it, use the guiding question:
What is the main idea the author wants me to learn or wants to convince me of in this
text? If the thesis is implied (not directly stated), examine the clues in the text and then
write in your own words what you think the author’s main purpose or central argument is.
(3) Label the major ideas when you read them (sometimes you can even number the
reasons as you identify them). To locate them, use the guiding question: What reasons
did the author use to convince me of his/her thesis?
(4) Note the minor ideas when you read them. To locate them, use the guiding questions:
What specific evidence (examples, data, etc) did the author use to illustrate the major
ideas and did s/he add analysis or explanation to further convince me?
PRACTICE
Using the second paragraph of Chapter VII in the excerpt from
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, locate the topic and
main idea as well as the major and minor ideas:
My mistress was, as I have said, a kind and tender-hearted woman; and in the simplicity of her
soul she commenced, when I first went to live with her, to treat me as she supposed one human being
ought to treat another. In entering upon the duties of a slaveholder, she did not seem to perceive that I
sustained to her the relation of a mere chattel, and that for her to treat me as a human being was not only
wrong, but dangerously so. Slavery proved as injurious to her as it did to me. When I went there, she was
a pious, warm, and tender-hearted
woman. There was no sorrow or suffering for which she had not a tear. She had bread for the hungry,
clothes for the naked, and comfort for every mourner that came within her reach. Slavery soon proved its
ability to divest her of these heavenly qualities. Under its influence, the tender heart became stone, and
the lamblike disposition gave way to one of tiger-like fierceness. The first step in her downward course
was in her ceasing to instruct me. She now commenced to practise her husband's precepts. She finally
became even more violent in her opposition than her husband himself. She was not satisfied with simply
doing as well as he had commanded; she seemed anxious to do better. Nothing seemed to make her
more angry than to see me with a newspaper. She seemed to think that here lay the danger. I have had
her rush at me with a face made all up of fury, and snatch from me a newspaper, in a manner that fully
revealed her apprehension. She was an apt woman; and a little experience soon demonstrated, to her
satisfaction, that education and slavery were incompatible with each other.
(Pause)
ANSWERS
MAIN IDEA/THESIS:
TOPIC:
Influence of slavery (“slavery” for example, would be too
general for this paragraph and “slaves learning to read” would be a
more appropriate topic for all of Chapter VII)
“Slavery proved as injurious to her as it did to me.”
MAJOR IDEAS (REASONS) PROVING THE MAIN IDEA/THESIS:
(1) “She was a pious, warm, and tender-hearted woman.”
(2) “Under [slavery’s] influence, the tender heart became stone, and the lamblike disposition gave way to
one of tiger-like fierceness.”
MINOR IDEAS (EVIDENCE AND ANALYSIS) ILLUSTRATING THE MAJOR IDEAS:
Supporting major idea #1: “She was a pious, warm, and tender-hearted woman.”
(a) “There was no sorrow or suffering for which she had not a tear. “
(b) “She had bread for the hungry, clothes for the naked, and comfort for every mourner that came within her
reach.”
Supporting major idea #2: “Under [slavery’s] influence, the tender heart became stone, and the
lamblike disposition gave way to one of tiger-like fierceness.”
(a) “The first step in her downward course was in her ceasing to instruct me. She now commenced to practise
her husband's precepts.”
(b) “She finally became even more violent in her opposition than her husband himself. She was not satisfied
with simply doing as well as he had commanded; she seemed anxious to do better.”
(c) “Nothing seemed to make her more angry than to see me with a newspaper. She seemed to think that here
lay the danger. I have had her rush at me with a face made all up of fury, and snatch from me a newspaper,
in a manner that fully revealed her apprehension.”
(d) “She was an apt woman; and a little experience soon demonstrated, to her satisfaction, that education and
slavery were incompatible with each other.”
WHAT IS ANNOTATING?
Annotating is an organized method to take notes as you read and involves marking up a text
as you read it. It usually involves adding your own thoughts, questions and observations in
the margins, circling unknown terms and vocabulary, underlining or highlighting main points
and good quotes, and coding (briefly summing up passages in a few key words).
WHY IS ANNOTATING IMPORTANT?
- It turns you into an active reader engaging closely with the text.
- Being an active reader improves comprehension and retention of what you read.
- You can use your notes to select material to include in a more formal paper.
- It can help you better understand complex texts through breaking them down.
- You can circle unknown terms and then look them all up after you are finished reading
(looking them up as you read will disrupt your understanding and enjoyment of the text)
- You can navigate a well-marked text quickly to find quotes and evidence for papers and
open book exams.
- You can refresh your memory of the text easily by re-reading your notes and what you have
highlighted without having to re-read the entire text.
HOW DO I ANNOTATE?
There are different methods for marking a text. Often you will use a variety of the
following methods AS YOU READ:
- In the text margins, write your own questions and comments that come up.
- Underline and/or highlight the main points and good quotes (don’t over
highlight—be selective).
- Circle unknown vocabulary and after you read, look up the words and write
in the definitions.
- Code as you read which means to write a one-to-three word description that
captures the essence of large chunks or paragraphs of text. This will create
an easy to follow summary in the margins.
- If the thesis (main argument or purpose of the text) is stated, write “thesis”
next to it or if it is implied (not stated) use the clues from the text to figure it
out and then write out the thesis in your own words.
PRACTICE
PRACTICE ANNOTATING YOUR TEXT:
Read the text below carefully. As you read, do the following:
(1) In the left margin, write your own QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS, adding your own
reactions, observations and queries as you read.
(2) Throughout the text, UNDERLINE OR HIGHLIGHT the main points and good quotes.
(3) Throughout the text, CIRCLE unknown vocabulary and after you read, look up the words
and write in the definitions.
(4) In the right margin, CODE, meaning write a one-to-three word description that captures the
essence of large chunks of text. This will create an easy to read summary in the right
margin.
(5) After reading the entire text, go back and see if you can locate and LABEL THE THESIS.
If it is not directly stated, write out the thesis in your own words.
PRACTICE
PRACTICE ANNOTATING: excerpt from Narrative of the Life of
Frederick Douglass
PRACTICE
PRACTICE ANNOTATING:
excerpt from Narrative of
the Life of Frederick
Douglass
page 1
(Pause)
PRACTICE
PRACTICE ANNOTATING:
excerpt from Narrative of
the Life of Frederick
Douglass
page 2
(Pause)
PRACTICE
PRACTICE ANNOTATING:
excerpt from Narrative of
the Life of Frederick
Douglass
page 3
(Pause)
EXAMPLE
ANNOTATING:
excerpt from
Narrative of the
Life of Frederick
Douglass
EXAMPLE
ANNOTATING:
excerpt from
Narrative of the
Life of Frederick
Douglass
page 1
EXAMPLE
ANNOTATING:
excerpt from
Narrative of the
Life of Frederick
Douglass
page 2
EXAMPLE
ANNOTATING:
excerpt from
Narrative of the
Life of Frederick
Douglass
page 3
WHAT IS CHUNKING?
Chunking is visually grouping interrelated words as you read as opposed to reading one word at a time. You
want to make meaningful groups of words and the point of fixation should be in the middle of the unit of words.
WHY IS CHUNKING IMPORTANT?
- Chunking speeds up your reading rate.
- Chunking enables you to process whole ideas rather than laboring word by word.
- Chunking improves comprehension by letting you get a “bigger picture” of the text.
HOW DO I DO IT?
Through practice, you can train your eye and your brain to focus on groups of words instead of individual
words. Look at the following examples to see what this type of grouping looks and feels like as you read and
then try applying the technique.
WHAT ARE WORD PARTS?
Each word parts serves to build meaning, so learning word parts can dramatically expand your
vocabulary because if you know part of an unknown word, you can make a quick and
educated guess as to its meaning without having to consult a dictionary.
WHY FOCUS ON WORD PARTS?
- Learning word parts (rather than memorizing lists of vocabulary words) is more efficient for
expanding your vocabulary because learning one word part can potentially help you figure out
hundreds of words that contain that word part.
- Knowing word parts helps you quickly identify the function of a word in a sentence (i.e. if the
word is a noun, a person, an action, an adjective).
- Having a broader vocabulary builds reading speed and comprehension.
HOW DO I USE WORD PARTS?
The first step is memorizing a series of word parts and applying that knowledge so that what
you learn stays in your long-term memory. You can then apply this knowledge of word parts
whenever you’re reading to figure out unfamiliar words quickly.
Words Parts
Prefixes
Set One
Words Parts
Prefixes
Set Two
Words Parts
Roots
Set One
Words Parts
Roots
Set Two
Words Parts
Suffixes
WHAT ARE CONTEXT CLUES?
Knowing word parts is one way to figure out the meaning of an unknown word.
Another approach you can employ is using context clues. You can often unlock the
meaning of a new word by analyzing the context of the sentence and paragraph in
which it is used. The context is the part of a text or statement that surrounds a
particular word or passage and determines its meaning.
WHY USE CONTEXT CLUES?
- Your reading isn’t slowed down by having to look words up in the dictionary.
- Paying more attention to context clues means you are reading on a more active
and engaged level which will improve comprehension and retention of what you
read.
- Your reading confidence increases as you can figure out complex language on
your own.
HOW DO I USE CONTEXT CLUES?
Use different types of clues to help unlock the meaning of new words:
Definition: The unknown word is defined within the sentence or paragraph. For example, the
hungry campers started to devour the pizzas after having been in the wilderness for the past
week, eagerly eating every crumb.
Elaborating Details: Descriptive details suggest the meaning of the unknown word. For example,
the young man in the photo had a striking and gaunt appearance. His clothes hung loosely on his
thin body, as if he had not eaten in weeks.
Elaborating Examples: An anecdote or example before or after the word suggests the meaning.
For example, after three days at sea, the fishermen were famished. They said they could eat an
entire whale if catching one were still allowed.
Comparison: A similar situation suggests the meaning of the unknown word. For example, before
being offered a generous five-year contract, the quarterback underwent more scrutiny than a
fugitive being investigated by the FBI.
Contrast: An opposite situation suggests the meaning of the unknown word. For example, even
though she appears indefatigable during the workday, she is generally exhausted by 6pm.
Also use word parts:
Prefixes: An affix placed at the beginning of a word which changes its meaning.
Roots: The base of a word (with all affixes removed) that contains the core meaning of the word.
The roots that we use in English are derived primarily from Latin and Greek.
Suffixes: An affix placed at the end of a word and indicates the form of the word (i.e. noun, verb,
adjective).
PRACTICE
Figuring Out Words in Context: Prefixes—Set One
Read the paragraph below which contains prefixes from “Prefixes—Set One.”
Afterwards, without using a dictionary give the definition of the italicized words using the context clues.
Also give the definition of the prefix used.
Once there was a ruler of a country
who was asked to abdicate her position
because she had become unpopular with
the people. A group of nobles interceded
on her behalf arguing that she was a very
beneficent ruler and that the reasons given
by those asking for her removal were
illogical and violated the sacred traditions
of the country. They also argued that if she
were removed, then anarchy would sweep
the land. Those who demanded that she
step down congregated in the main square
of the capital and decided that if she would
not willingly abdicate, then they would need
to seek expel her but they knew this would
be very difficult because the country’s laws
on the issue of abdication were ambiguous
and could therefore be manipulated by
those sympathetic to the ruler. The people
felt that not only did they want to remove
the ruler herself but also the dichotomous
system of government that gave only the
ruler and the nobles any power or decisionmaking. They proposed more of a
synthesis of power between the upper as
well as lower classes.
(Pause)
PRACTICE
Figuring Out Words in Context: Prefixes—Set Two
Read the paragraph below which contains prefixes from “Prefixes—Set Two.”
Afterwards, without using a dictionary give the definition of the italicized words using the context clues.
Also give the definition of the prefix used.
Maria and Anthony tried for many years to
have children. With her perennial courage, Maria
endured many corrective surgeries and treatments
but to no avail. Finally, she tried fertility drugs even
though she knew a woman who had done the
same and her child came out malformed. Maria
told Anthony that she wished she were omnipotent
so that she could fix her difficulties without the use
of medication. Maria had many negative
preconceptions about the use of fertility drugs, but
Anthony helped her learn the actual risks and
benefits. Therefore, she began treatment and they
became pregnant. They were both overjoyed. In
Maria’s second trimester, the doctor told her that
she was carrying quadruplets. The doctor
explained about polyembryony and how this was
a common occurrence for women who use fertility
drugs. At first, Maria did not tell Anthony, and she
felt very subversive and guilty about it. A few
weeks passed, and she finally told him the news
and to her surprise he was overjoyed as he had
always wanted a very large family. With his
support and her strength, she delivered all the
babies and they were all healthy. She suffered a
small amount of postpartum depression, but once
she began the full-time job of taking care of all her
beautiful children when she looked in retrospect at
her choices, she was very pleased.
(Pause)
PRACTICE
Figuring Out Words in Context: Roots—Set One
Read the paragraph below which contains prefixes from “Roots—Set One.”
Afterwards, without using a dictionary give the definition of the italicized words using the context clues.
Also give the definition of the prefix used.
When Jeannine began college, she was
convinced that she wanted to become a
gynecologist because she was from a family of
doctors. However, in class one day as they were
looking at a biopsy of infected cells, she felt
nauseous. Besides, she never liked her genetics
class, so she could now drop this course which was
bringing down her G.P.A.. When she told her
mother she was changing her major, her mother
supported her but warned her not to make such
drastic changes habitual. Her mother
recommended that she consider instead
dermatology because her uncle George who had
his own practice enjoyed a good income and
complete autonomy. Jeannine, however, said she
was done with all medically related fields. She
considered the classes she had taken and liked so
far. She considered becoming an ethnographer
but was not sure if she wanted to take all the
required Anthropology classes for that field of work.
She had also enjoyed her Marine Biology class but
decided it was not for her as she was not very
aquatic. Her mother deduced Jeannine’s
indecision from her troubled expression and told
her not to worry so much because choosing a
major much less a career was a very gradual
process and that she still had lots of time.
(Pause)
PRACTICE
Figuring Out Words in Context: Roots—Set Two
Read the paragraph below which contains prefixes from “Roots—Set Two.”
Afterwards, without using a dictionary give the definition of the italicized words using the context clues.
Also give the definition of the prefix used.
Off in a small, remote village lived a
little old inventor. He lived at the edge of
town all by himself and had no children, but
he was very paternal. He suffered from
agoraphobia so instead of going out, he
would invite the children of the town into his
workshop and teach them about his
inventions. One of the children’s favorite
inventions was a polyphonic instrument
that when contorted could be heard
throughout the village. Another favorite was
a machine that would record a speaker’s
soliloquy and transcribe what he or she
said. The inventor even had a painting that
changed colors when tactilely triggered
and a lamp that produced pyrotechnics
when someone sneezed. The adults of the
town thought that the inventor was very
unorthodox and perhaps a little pathetic
for his hermit-like ways, but they respected
him…from a distance.
(Pause)
PRACTICE
Figuring Out Words in Context: Suffixes
Now that you have practiced figuring out words in context, let’s practice creating words in context. In
other words, it’s time to put your expanded vocabulary to use and create your own paragraph.
Create words using the following suffixes:
Now, create a paragraph (it can be a story, an explanation, a how to, an argument,
a description) using the 10 words you created above. The paragraph must make
sense as a whole.
(Pause)
that concludes
1
CRITICAL READING
While Reading Strategies
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