Activity Outcome
  • Students will be able to begin reading the course texts more productively.
Relevant Course Outcome
  • Students will be able to read works of literature closely and thoroughly.

There is reading and there is READING. This semester, we are attempting to learn how to accomplish the latter. The readings in this course are difficult, if for no other reason that because they were written so long ago and their styles, images, subject matter, etc., are unfamiliar to contemporary readers. When you read for this course, consider the following.

Did you know...
  • ...questions are valid? Questions lead us to ponder, to ask ourselves and others for help, to think outside of the box.
  • ...being confused is okay? If this work was easy, you would not be taking a college class on it. It's DIFFICULT! Do not undervalue your confusion. It is perfectly natural to be confused when in unfamiliar territory.
  • ...we learn the most when we struggle with something? Not to mention it's much more heroic and definitely makes for a much better story.

Before Reading
  • Before sitting down to read, check the corresponding unit page. For each reading or group of readings, there are questions, background, and/or thoughts to consider (either in the unit page or a relevant Prezi), which can give you direction as you make your way through a text. Having direction can focus how you read, especially with an unfamiliar work.
  • Give yourself plenty of time. You WILL have to reread.
  • Read the background to each work first. Learn something about the time period. Learn a bit about the author. We will discuss more in class, but having a bit of context while you read is helpful. (Note: looking up background information on Wikipedia or a similar site is perfectly acceptable. These sites are helpful for background and finding basic information; they are not helpful for finding in-depth discussions or credible research.)

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While Reading
  • Have a notebook (or laptop) and a writing utensil (whether or not you have a notebook or laptop) handy. The pen/pencil is for writing in the margins. If you are reading electronically, be sure you have a method of connecting what you are reading to what you are writing for future reference.
  • Taking notes while reading is ESSENTIAL. Why? (Some "notes" on taking notes: click here)
    • It slows you down, allowing you to focus without simply glazing over or skimming.
    • It puts the emphasis on your thoughts, recording those ideas and questions we all have as we read, though all too often forget. Want to know a secret? These ideas and questions are the important part of reading. They are as important as what is on the page. If they were not, there would be no point to reading.
    • Highlighting can be useful. However, highlighting without recording why you are highlighting is rather like putting a string around your finger and then forgetting what it's supposed to represent.
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    • A word jotted down here and there is not note-taking. As with highlighting, we quickly forget what we meant by sparse and/or cryptic words.
  • Try not simply to read. The goal is to think.
    • What am I reading?
    • What did I just read?
    • Do I have any questions about it?
    • Did I understand it?
    • Does it connect to anything else I have read?
    • Why on earth did the author write that and in that way?
  • Consider different approaches to reading literature. These approaches are not mutually exclusive (in other words, we should look at a text from multiple angles, not just one). A partial list:
    • Plot - what happened, when, and who did it
    • Character motivation - why a character did what he/she did
    • Character relationships - how the characters relate to and interact with each other
    • Societal influence - the values or mores (religious, political, etc.) that influenced the text and/or what the text can tell us about the society in which it was written
    • Societal connections - comparing and contrasting the society of the text with other societies (contemporary or otherwise)
    • Historical significance - the environment (religious, political, artistic, quotidian, etc.) in which the text was written and its effects and/or what the text can tell us about this environment
    • Author intent - what the writer intended
    • Reader response - what the reader can take from the text (whether or not this is the same as author intent)
    • Allegorical possibilities - the symbolic or metaphoric meanings
    • Etymology - the language (words, phrases, translation, etc.)
    • Style - how the text is written
    • Moral - the message of the text
    • Textual connections - how the text connects to other readings
  • Do not try to read everything in one sitting. Put it down and come back to it. It does not help to wear yourself out.
  • If you find yourself completely drowning, especially if even the plot level is incomprehensible to you, look on the web for a summary or other discussion. These summaries are NOT substitutes for reading the text. However, do what you have to do in order to help you make sense of what you are reading. In other words, do not give up.

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After Reading
  • Reread! No one absorbs everything from a reading the first time through. Rereading is necessary.
  • Taking notes is good; reading and thinking about your notes is better.
  • When thinking about notes, look for patterns.
    • Are there questions you had repeatedly?
    • Are there observations that are related to each other?
  • Ask yourself about the themes of the reading.
    • What showed up regularly?
    • What ideas is the author interested in conveying?
  • Ask yourself if something was going on that was not obvious.
    • Were there any underlying themes?
    • Were any ideas buried in the reading?
  • Small details/passages/etc. - Sometimes, we are fascinated when we read, not about the bigger questions or key scenes, but in something small or a side issue, a word or paragraph. That is great! Run with it. Think more closely about that small detail.
  • After finishing each reading, compose at least three questions to bring with you to class. The process of creating these questions will cause you to engage with what you just read. You will automatically have something to say in class. Even if you do not ask them in class (though I would encourage you to do so), they will help you during discussion.

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Use the Wiki and Facebook
  • Your personal page on the wiki is an excellent place to write out your thoughts, ideas, and questions (remember those three questions?) about each text. Doing so will help you remember and, more importantly, think deeper about the readings. This is one of the main advantages of the wiki. (The Cornell System of taking notes includes summarizing your notes in your own words - not just single words and short phrases - later as well as writing questions, observations, and connections to be made from the material.)
  • Have a question? Take it to the Facebook Group. I guarantee someone else has the question too, and discussion can be very helpful. Also, a way to hold yourself accountable for those three questions is to post them on the group before each class.

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Activity Outcome
  • Students will be able to reconsider methods of note-taking and attempt other ways to remember material.
Relevant Course Outcome
  • Students will be able to read works of literature closely and thoroughly.

  • For one part of class today, I will explain how to take notes in the Cornell System of taking notes. For this exercise, I will provide you with special notebook paper.
  • Take notes on our discussion for the day.
    • Following Cornell System
    • Thoroughness
    • Understanding of material
    • Effort
  • After this class, for any five class periods in which you ask for special notebook paper (or create your own) and complete Cornell notes on the day's discussion, you will receive one point extra credit. In other words, you can earn up to five points of extra credit throughout the semester for completing Cornell notes in class. Simply show me the notes the end of the class period.