As students read, the words and their meanings are held for a very brief time in a storage bin called short-term memory. Short-term memory holds information for less than a second, before new words make their way in and crowd out the “old” information. At this point, the “old” information must then be transported into active working memory or it will be discarded. Therefore, short-term memory is the “registration point,” or point at which we take in information that we read.
Here are some strategies for enhancing students' reading comprehension by focusing on short-term memory.
- Confirm that students’ skills in word decoding (reading words rapidly and accurately) are at, or near grade level. Provide opportunities for students to make decoding skills "automatic." This will enable them to focus on the meaning of the text as they read, rather than focusing on decoding the words.
- Utilize choral reading strategies where students read aloud together or with you, so they can both see and hear the words being read.
- Have students read in pairs, alternating between passages and then switching parts to re-read the text.
- Use pre-reading strategies to give students clues about the most important information they will need to comprehend and remember. For example:
- Introduce key terms, new vocabulary and important concepts before students begin reading.
- Provide students with guiding questions to help them focus during reading.
- Have students take quick notes that describe the gist (main idea) of what they are reading. For example, have students stop to summarize what they’ve read after each paragraph. This approach will help insure that students are recording important information in their minds.
- Be sure that students have all necessary materials readily accessible before they begin reading a passage, for example, a pen and paper for jotting down notes, a highlighter for marking key words, etc.