Reading and Memory Strategies
Reading comprehension is critical for success in most history courses. It is often the case that test questions are taken directly from or draw heavily upon the required readings. The four strategies described here relate to reading the text and taking notes from the text: SQ3R, supporting materials, margin notes, and reading grid. Improving understanding and retention of the reading material are the goals of the reading strategies.
The SQ3R reading strategy is highly recommended for history texts. Survey each chapter quickly by reading the introduction, scanning the section headings, and reading the summary. Look for broad interpretations and development of evidence. Then turn the headings into questions that may be answered in the reading. Follow this by a slow reading of one section at a time; read for content, focusing on key examples, important definitions of major ideas or terms, and evidence that supports the author's interpretations. After each section, take a few moments to recite the main points of the section. Finally, after carefully reading and reciting each section, reread the introduction and summary of the chapter to review, and try to pull together the main points of each section.
Dr. Taylor Stults of the History Department at Muskingum College contends that it is very important to study the supporting materials provided in most history texts. Supporting materials provide graphic summaries of information presented in the text, and therefore are especially helpful to visual learners and can serve as effective memory triggers during exams. They also give students ideas for organizing history information.
Supporting materials include time lines, diagrams, maps, and tables of information. Consider how the visual aids fit in with the text. In what ways do the visuals support the author's arguments? Try to draw conclusions from the supporting material.
Students are often tempted to highlight important information while reading history texts. While this approach may work for some students, the margin notes strategy is often more effective in maintaining student attention and insuring comprehension. Making margin notes keeps the student more active while reading, and it requires that one process information more completely.
The margin notes strategy is relatively simple and straightforward. As you read the text, underline the important terms, names, and concepts, and write your own summary or explanation in the margins.
The reading grid strategy provides a template for taking notes from chapters in history texts. By writing notes one section at a time, students are painlessly lead to develop outlines for each chapter.
This approach works wonderfully with the SQ3R reading strategy, described earlier in this section. After surveying the chapter, forming questions, and reading one section, students are asked to recite aloud the main points of the section. The main points, along with supporting details and evidence, may also be recorded on the reading grid to provide a permanent record of the material.
The reading grid is helpful because it breaks the task of reading a chapter into smaller, more manageable parts. This, in turn, helps to maintain student interest and attention. Information is processed more completely when it is summarized and transcribed into the student's own words. The resulting grids may be used to prepare for class participation and exams.
The reading grid is a matrix divided into enough boxes to cover all the sections in a chapter. To use the reading grid, write down the section headings (topics) in each box and then record the main points, details, important terms and dates in the corresponding box.
Memory strategies appropriate for most history courses include visual association (imagery), visual elaboration, rhymes, and number strategies. These approaches are also explained in more detail in the Memory page.
Visual Association (Imagery)
Imagery is the ability to produce mental pictures of things that have previously been seen or can be imagined visually. Visual associations are used to facilitate memorization when old, familiar images are associated with images of information to be remembered. For example, to remember that the Boston Tea Party occurred in 1773, imagine a sailing ship with Indians throwing boxes of tea over the side. Above this ship imagine the numbers "1773" flashing on a neon sign in the sky. Smell the salt water and listen to the sound of crashing waves.
The visual elaboration strategy is a form of mnemonic that targets oral language and addresses vocabulary building skills. It uses mental pictures to cue vocabulary definitions or identifications. For instance, to remember the name "Deng Xiao-ping," picture a bullet hitting a bell ("ding"), a bullet bursting a balloon ("pow") and a bullet hitting a wall ("ping") (Dr. Taylor Stults, Muskingum College). Or, draw the elaboration; for example, to remember Mao Tse-tung, the leader of the Chinese Revolution, draw a person mowing ("mow" = Mao), a person saying something ("say" = Tse), and a tongue (= tung).
The rhyming strategy helps the student to remember lists, rules, simple facts, concepts and other forms of information for nearly any subject. The classic example of a history rhyme is used to remember the date when Christopher Columbus reached the New World: "Columbus sailed the ocean blue / In fourteen hundred and ninety-two."
Numerical information like historical dates and periods may be encoded and retrieved with number elaboration, number association, and number-letter conversions strategies.
Number elaboration involves using common numerical configurations (phone numbers, currency) to remember dates and other numerical data. For example, to remember the year the Magna Carta was enacted, 1066, write it as money, $10.66. To remember the dates for the Mississippian time period in eastern United States cultural history, write it as a phone number: 800-1550.
Number association involves linking the new numerical information with known information of personal relevance. For example, to remember the number of nations on the United Nations Security Council, associate it with the uniform number of a favorite athlete. Relate the date of President Kennedy's assassination with the birthday of a close relative or friend.
Number-letter conversion entails using predetermined codes with which numbers are assigned specific letter designations. One scheme is as follows:
Vowels are not used. To remember a numerical item, use the coded letters to form a cue word. Add vowels to form the cue word, if necessary. For example, to remember the year Columbus landed in the New World, 1492, use the code letters t, r, b, and n to form the cue word "turban." Add visual images to make the memory more clear. For our example, picture an explorer wearing a turban.