Reading and recalling details from nonfiction sources like textbooks can challenge students from the elementary grades through high school. Readers need strategies that make it easier to grasp and retain information from science books, social studies texts and any other fact-based materials they encounter in school. To improve comprehension of nonfiction texts, the SQ3R strategy takes students through this five-step procedure: survey, question, read, recite and review.
Students start by surveying the chapter, connecting what they already know to what they're about to read. They scan the passage for text features that call attention to important information like titles, subheading, illustrations, graphs and words in bold type. In elementary school, teachers need to show students how to find these text features and demonstrate how to use them as clues for what the text will contain. For example, subheadings often contain the central idea of that section. High school teachers can ask students during class to preview chapters assigned as homework reading.
Based on the survey, students create a list of questions the text should answer. Ideally, students should ask “why” and “how” questions to promote deeper comprehension. For example, if the class is reading about the battle of Lexington and Concord, the question, “Why were the colonists worried about British troops going on the march?” will lead to more thinking than “Who was Paul Revere?” Initially, elementary teachers can assign questions until students learn questioning strategies. High school teachers should also model effective questions that promote deeper comprehension before releasing responsibility to students.
SQ3R calls for active, silent reading while students think about their questions. Some readers may need support at this stage, particularly at the elementary level. Teachers can work with a small group of readers who may still be struggling with basic reading skills while the rest of the class reads independently. High school teachers may require students to read outside of class independently or in study groups; they should also be alert for students who need extra help understanding the reading.
After reading, students answer their questions orally or in writing. In elementary and high school classrooms, this is an opportunity for students to discuss answers with a partner while the teacher checks student progress. High school students working outside of class can write out answers and compare them with a study partner. Students are still building comprehension with more reading and thinking to do at the next step.
Students reread some or all the text looking for information that answers their questions completely. Teachers at any level who notice students struggling to recite can pull them aside for extra help as they review and reread all or portions of the text. Students may need to review multiple times to answer all their questions. Once students have complete answers, they can continue to review the texts, questions and answers for further study.
In elementary classrooms, SQ3R works for any for nonfiction selections in reading, social studies and science. Teachers should introduce SQ3R by modeling each step and helping students through guided practice. Because SQ3R originated at the university level, the strategy works well for college-bound high school students with required reading outside of class. High School teachers should teach SQ3R to students who haven't seen it and discuss how it applies to the texts used for the class.
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