Teachers taking tips from I.A. Richards
(by Rich Majerus for English 501)
Note: After reading from a selection of I.A. Richards' "How to Read a Page," in Enos and Brown's Professing the New Rhetorics: A Sourcebook (16-37), I devised this list of helpful pointers to share with my own students. Following his discussion of the vices of reading which we must recognize, Richards moves to a general discussion of how to improve reading.

Tips to improve reading comprehension

  1. Remember that reading aloud may be counterproductive. (This common technique used to aid comprehension may in fact lead to more misinterpretations. Reading aloud [either externally or internally] is less neutral than simply reading through the eye.)
  2. We add a great deal "of our own" to the words on the page. Students must remember to be aware of the fact that they are indeed bringing their backgrounds to the text. (This will include prejudices, agendas, values, etc.) Once students accept this they will be more careful to avoid potential misunderstandings that their backgrounds could cause.
  3. If a text is difficult to interpret, attempt rephrasing. This allows for exploration into comparisons (leading to our next point.)
  4. Consider the reading process as a matter of "organized comparisons between meanings" (33). Remember, for Richards, uncovering meaning is always a process of sorting.
  5. Remember that meaning is never static; it is dependent upon who is reading, when the reading takes place, etc. This refers directly back to tip #2.
  6. Questioning the assumptions we make about the phrases we compare is an important part of the art of reading. Again, students must realize they are making such assumptions with a whole range of contexts in place.
  7. Students must care enough about a passage to "puzzle out" the meaning. (This, of course, cannot be taught, but it leads to our final point...)
  8. Slow down! As Richards says, "Anything that is worth studying should be read as slowly as it will let you" (31).