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).
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:
what kind of text it is (fairy tale, report?);
whether it is mainly action or dialogue;
whether it is mainly internal (thinking) or external (interaction among characters);
whether it is in chronological order; etc.
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.)
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.
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:
WER (both names and descriptive nouns, like der
Mann, always trying to include articles);
WANN(both dates and others, like später, am
nächsten Tag, etc.);
WO (both place names and others like zu Hause,
Now pull things together:
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
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
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:
establish logical relationships by finding connectors (for
ex. although, if, in addition, etc.)
identify to what or whom a word or group of words refers
locate important words in the phrase or sentence, like the
subject, main verb (and the parts of the main verb), important
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:
Why did the author put this remark or description in
this place and not in another?
What is the meaning of a fact alone? in relation to other
facts in the text?
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.
Click here to go back to the first Reading Techniques page!