GER 341, 342, 343 HomepageOregon State University

READING TECHNIQUES: Five Step Approach


Please note: These steps are designed to be used with an Übungsblatt; there is a section for each step on each worksheet. You can, of course, use them with any German (or other foreign language text) without the worksheet!

STEP ONE: Orientation (Orientierung).

Goal: Prereading preparation.

Look carefully at anything that can give you information on the reading: table of contents, the introduction to the story, the title, subheadings within the story, glosses, vocabulary. Try to find some of this type of information:

Next: Think about what you might associate with any of the results of your orientation. For example, if you have decided the text is a drama, think about what you expect from a drama. If there is a certain word that occurs often or in a central location, think about what one normally associates with that word. An example is das Gesetz in the story Vor dem Gesetz: what does one normally associate with "the law?" What might that mean for this story?

STEP TWO: Skimming.

Goal: To get the general meaning (gist) of the story without trying to decode exactly what each word means.

Read the whole text through silently twice as outlined below. Do not use a dictionary! (To help you resist the temptation to decode the reading word-for- word, you should time yourself, allowing no more than two minutes per paragraph.)

  1. Your first reading will help orient you further to the content and make you comfortable with what you don't understand in it. Focus on what does make sense (cognates, compound words, logical relationships between words and whole phrases), and skip what you don't understand, trying to go with the flow.
  2. Your second reading will give you a much better feeling for the content. You will notice that some passages that were unclear during your first reading are starting to clear up, since what comes at the end often helps you to understand the beginning.

After completing these two readings, stop and make a mental summary of what you have understood. Now invent a sentence (Schlüsselsatz) summarizing what you think the story is (or might be) about. Write in German if you can, English if you must. You might write something like: This story deals with X (love, for instance), and Y happens. . . .

STEP THREE: Scanning.

Goal: To extract specific pieces of information.

In "real life" you might scan a train schedule for one kind of information, a travel brochure for different information, and a theater program for a third type. From the literary texts in this course, you will extract certain basic facts by scanning it:

Read through the text again very quickly, scanning for the things listed below. To focus your attention more clearly, underline (preferably in different color ink/pencil), and list on your Übungsblatt these items:

Now pull things together:
  1. Locate and write down a few words more about what you have written for 3. For example, if you have found a name Georg, write a short description of Georg using words you find in the text about him.
  2. Now write a loose chronology of what happens. Write in German as much as you can; use English to fill in the gaps. Don't look up words in the dictionary; complete sentences are not necessary. Write just enough to indicate the progress of the literary text.

STEP FOUR: Decoding.

Goal: Thorough comprehension.

After you have skimmed and scanned, there will still be stretches of text that offer vocabulary or grammatical difficulties you can't overcome easily. In those cases, intensive reading (detailed, word-by-word decoding) is necessary. So, now read the text again, this time slowing down and decoding these sections, i.e. carefully analyzing each word unit. Remember to think about structure as well as vocabulary when you are working. For example:
Now you should be able to paraphrase the author, but not necessarily evaluate the ideas or tell the "why" about the text. When you are finished reading, try to retell events in the text in your mind; in German this is called a Nacherzählung. Make yourself notes on your Übungsblatt (in German if possible) so that you could retell it in class.

STEP FIVE: Global Understanding.

Goal: To understand and critically evaluate the "why" of the text.

Some examples of questions you should ask yourself after all your readings:
Usually we will discuss these and similar questions in class, but you should try to figure some of them out by yourself and make some notes to contribute to the discussion.
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