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1.4: Using Questions to Be an Active Reader

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    Reading as an active process

    Reading is not a passive process. As good readers, we are constantly connecting our own knowledge to the text and using different strategies to understand. In 1.3: Identifying Reading Strategies and Prereading a Text we have already looked at two strategies: prereading and using a KWL+ chart to connect the text to what you already know about the topic and what you want to learn. Here are some other strategies that you might use to read actively. Which strategies do you usually use? Are there others that you want to try?

    • Skipping confusing parts and returning to them after you finish
    • Taking notes about the main points of each section
    • Reading some parts quickly and some parts slowly
    • Reading again
    • Telling someone else what you understand

    Telling someone about the reading

    Let's try another active reading strategy: telling someone else about what you understand. Reading quickly with a timer makes you search for the overall meaning without stopping to look up words or get caught in the small details. Like signs at a protest (see Figure 1.4.1), you can only focus on the most important ideas.

    a child in a stroller holds a sign at a protest reading "Education Not Deportation"
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): "Los Angeles March for Immigrant Rights" by Molly Adams is licensed under CC-BY 2.0.


    Try this!

    Here is a report from UNICEF (United Nations Childrens' Fund). Follow these steps:

    1. Set a timer for 2 minutes.
    2. Read as much as you can in 2 minutes.
    3. In your own words, tell a classmate what you understand from the reading.
    4. Set the timer for 2 minutes and read again from the top.
    5. Again, tell your classmate what you understand from the reading.
    6. Read the entire report again without a timer and tell your partner again what you learned.
    7. Discuss whether this helped you to understand the report.

    Reading an International Report: A Child is a Child: Protecting Children on the Move from Violence, Abuse and Exploitation

    Millions of children are on the move across international borders – fleeing violence and conflict, disaster or poverty, in pursuit of a better life. Hundreds of thousands move on their own. When they encounter few opportunities to move legally, children resort to dangerous routes and engage smugglers to help them cross borders. Serious gaps in the laws, policies and services meant to protect children on the move further leave them bereft of protection and care. Deprived, unprotected, and often alone, children on the move can become easy prey for traffickers and others who abuse and exploit them.

    Many children move alone and face particularly grave risks. In parts of the world, the number of children moving on their own has skyrocketed. On the dangerous Central Mediterranean Sea passage from North Africa to Europe, 92 per cent of children who arrived in Italy in 2016 and the first two months of 2017 were unaccompanied, up from 75 per cent in 2015. At least 300,000 unaccompanied and separated children moving across borders were registered in 80 countries in 2015–2016 – a near fivefold increase from 66,000 in 2010–2011. The total number of unaccompanied and separated children on the move worldwide is likely much higher.

    Specific reasons motivate children to undertake journeys alone. Many seek to reunite with family members already abroad. Others pursue their families’ aspirations for this generation to have a better life. Perceptions of the potential benefits of children moving, especially to certain destinations, filter through social networks. Other factors include family breakdown, domestic violence, child marriage and forced conscription.

    Without safe and legal pathways, children’s journeys are rife with risk and exploitation. Whatever their motivation, children often find few opportunities to move legally. Family reunification, humanitarian visas, refugee resettlement spots, and work or study visas are out of reach for most. But barriers to legal migration do not stop people from moving, they only push them underground.

    Wherever families and children desperate to move encounter barriers, smuggling in human beings thrives. Smugglers range from people helping others in need for a fee to organized criminal networks that deliver children into hazardous and exploitative situations.

    Once children and families place their fates in the hands of smugglers, the transaction can readily take a turn towards abuse or exploitation – especially when children and families incur debts to pay smugglers’ fees. Europol estimates that 20 per cent of suspected smugglers on their radar have ties to human trafficking – they help children cross borders, only to sell them into exploitation, sometimes akin to contemporary forms of slavery.

    Questioning for active reading

    One of the best ways to read actively is to ask questions before, during, and after we read. These questions help us to set goals for reading, understand what we are reading, and check our understanding afterwards. When we ask questions, it is as though we are having a conversation with the writer: What do you mean here? Where did this happen? Who is involved? Why is this important? How does this relate to the refugee crisis? How did you arrive at that conclusion? When we ask questions, we read with purpose and more depth. As we read and some questions are answered, new questions will arise.

    Look at Table 1.4.1. Which of these questions do you currently ask before, during, and after you read a text? Which ones do you not use that you would like to try?

    Table 1.4.1 Questions that can be asked before reading, during reading, and after reading

    Before Reading

    During Reading

    After Reading

    • Why am I reading this text? What am I expected to do with or get out of this text? Do I need to answer questions? Find the main idea? Use this text in an essay?
    • What type of text is it? Is it an article, research paper, a blog, a tweet, a TED talk, etc?
    • Who is the author? What are their credentials (a person’s background and qualifications)? What is the name of the publication? When was the text written?
    • What is the title? Are there any headings/subheadings or graphic aids (e.g., images, graphs, tables, charts) that give me clues about the topic/key points?
    • What do I know about the topic and how do I feel about it?
    • What do I think the text will teach me?
    • Do I have any biases about the topic because of my feelings towards it? (biases are strong opinions that make it hard to be objective)
    • What key terms does the author define in the text? Are there any bold-faced, highlighted, italicized words or terms that are repeated throughout the text?
    • What seems to be the author’s purpose or reason for writing this text? Is it to inform, persuade, or entertain? There can be more than one purpose.
    • Who is the author’s audience? For whom did the writer compose this text, and how are they trying to appeal to their audience? (e.g., Is the text written for a history student, a psychology professor, a person’s socio-economic status, political affiliation, religious beliefs, or sexual orientation?) There can be more than one audience.
    • What seems to be the key point(s), or what question(s) is the author trying to answer in the text? What is the thesis, message, or main idea of the text? Ask yourself: what is it mainly about? Can I find clues in the introduction and conclusion? You might scan the first paragraph or introduction and last paragraph or conclusion.
    • What evidence is provided to support the author’s key points? Are they referring to other texts? Statistics? Examples?

    Other Wh-question words (who, what, when, where, why, how),

    • What does the author mean by X?
    • How does this relate to X?
    • Why is this X?
    • What did I learn?
    • Is there anything that was unclear? Write down some questions that you want to answer and go back and reread difficult passages with these questions in mind.
    • Did I find what I needed? If not, what else do I need to know?
    • Did I find the author’s style persuasive? Why or why not?
    • Do I agree with what I read? Why or why not?
    • How does what I read compare to other things I have read on this topic?
    • What ideas stuck with me? Which ones do I want to investigate more?

    Asking questions as you read

    Now let's take a look at an article and ask questions before, during, and after reading it:

    Try this!

    As you read, “Changes in U.S. Immigration Patterns and Attitudes,” ask questions before, during, and after reading the text. Use the chart to help you! Create at least three WH-questions while you read. WH-questions can be fact-based ("How many undocumented immigrants live in the U.S.?") or open-ended "Why do you think that the number of undocumented immigrants has declined since 2007?").

    Reading from a textbook: Changes in U.S. Immigration Patterns and Attitudes

    Worldwide patterns of migration have changed, though the United States remains the most popular destination. In 2018, there were over 44.8 million immigrants living in the United States (The Pew Research Center 2018). This is more than four times the 9.7 million immigrants in the United States in 1960. In 2015, there were 12.1 million immigrants to the United States from South or East Asia, 11.6 million from Mexico, and 5.6 million from Canada or Europe. Moreover, the source countries of immigrants has changed. In 1960 the vast majority of immigrants came from Europe and Canada, but there was a large shift in during the 1970s and immigration from other parts of the world increased sharply while European and Canadian immigration declined.

    While there are more foreign-born people residing in the United States legally (73% of immigrants in 2018), about 10.5 million are undocumented immigrants. This is a sharp decline from a peak of 12.2 million in 2007.

    Most U.S. citizens agree that our national immigration policies are in need of change—almost three-quarters of those in a recent national survey believed undocumented immigrants should have a path to citizenship provided they meet other requirements, such as speaking English.

    Works Cited

    Lumen Learning, Introduction to Sociology, 2020.

    UNICEF, "A Child is a Child: Protecting Children on the Move from Violence, Abuse and Exploitation Executive Summary." 17 May 2017.

    Licenses and Attributions

    CC Licensed Content: Original

    Authored by Marit ter Mate-Martinsen, Santa Barbara City College. License: CC BY NC.

    CC Licensed Content: Previously Published

    "A Child is a Child: Protecting Children on the Move from Violence, Abuse and Exploitation" is adapted from UNICEF. License: CC BY NC.

    Chart of questions for before, during, and after reading adapted from Lumen Learning, English Composition 1, "Questioning." License: CC BY.

    "Changes in US Immigration Patterns and Attitudes" adapted from Lumen Learning, Introduction to Sociology 20.5: Immigration in the United States. License: CC BY.

    This page titled 1.4: Using Questions to Be an Active Reader is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Gabriel Winer & Elizabeth Wadell (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative (OERI)) .

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