Remembering What We Read

Strategy:  Reading for Retention

By Kathy Moeller Herried

We are often told that the key to remembering what we read is repetition. This has not been my experience.  At least, I don’t find that reading the same thing over and over helps with retention. The strategy described in this document uses repetition, but it is not based upon reading the same thing multiple times. 

Before I get into the rationale for the strategy, I ask that you simply follow the suggestions described below.  If the strategy feels like it “works” for you, let’s talk about the underlying principles at another time. The reading material is presented in a worksheet / table format to make it easy to write reference notes in the right-hand column.

Please read one paragraph at a time. The reading material is on the, left. Space for writing notes is on the right.  After reading a paragraph, write a one-sentence summary statement in the column on the right.  Before reading the second paragraph, take the time to read—out loud—the summary statement you just wrote. As soon as you have read the second paragraph, write a summary statement for it, and then read the summary statement out loud.

Next, read—out loud—Summary Statement #1 and Summary Statement #2 Summary Statement #2 before reading the third paragraph.  Continue with this pattern—repeatedly reading summary statements in sequential order—until you’ve read the entire document.  

The title of this reading selection is, “How I Spent My Summer Vacation.”

Paragraph # Reading Material Summary Statement
Par. #1 The summer of 1972 was perhaps my best summer ever! In May of 1972 I was a Sophomore in college. I had worked part-time during my first two years of college, and had moved back into my parent’s home that Spring so I could save extra money for my first trip to Europe. I had spent a lot of time planning the trip and was very excited! My plan was to go to the Goethe Institute in Passau, Germany, spend six weeks there improving my German and then spend the rest of the summer traveling in Germany and Austria. I had also arranged to go to Salzburg, Austria, to attend another school and visit the Salzburg Music Festival later that summer.
Summary Statement for Par. #1

Instruction:  Read Summary Statement #1 out loud before reading Paragraph # 2
Par. #2 The trip started out well enough, though the flight was very long. When I got off the plane, I learned that I had a long train ride in front of me too. Prior to taking this trip, I had not had many opportunities to travel, so I did not plan the trip very well. Besides packing too many things, I had not anticipated such a trip without a rest stop. Between the plane trip and the train ride, I ended up traveling for over 24 hours straight! I also learned, the hard way, if you want to travel great distances with several large suitcases, they would be best equipped with rollers. Mine were not, and I only made it to Passau with the help of some very kind strangers. When I finally arrived at my destination, I collapsed in exhaustion.
Summary Statement for Par. #2

Instruction: Read Summary Statements #1 and #2 out loud before reading Paragraph # 3
Par. #3 The Goethe Institute is a language school that offers intensive instruction in German. The brochure led me to believe that I would “live with a family” so I could be totally immersed in the language. Much to my surprise, the family I was assigned to manage a bakery downtown and they rented rooms to the Goethe institut for its students. I did not live in their quarters and had virtually no contact with them! After recovering from the trip, I realized that I would be virtually on my own. Besides being disappointed, I was terribly homesick.
Summary Statement for Par. #3

Instruction: Read Summary Statement # 1 and #2 and #3 out loud before reading Paragraph # 4
Par. #4 After a few days, I made some friends and started to settle in. My best friend was a young woman from Italy, named Lucia. We would go out for coffee after class and practice our German. We would shop and laugh (and commiserate). We were very different. Whereas I wanted to improve my German so I would have a better understanding of the literature and philosophy I read in school, Lucia’s family had sent to Germany to improve her oral language skills because they were shopkeepers who wanted her to be able to communicate better with the German tourists who came into their shop. But our differences did not matter. Lucia was very outgoing and sociable. She led the way when it came to going out to dinner, going dancing and participating in social get-togethers. As 20-year-olds in a new country, we had lots of fun exploring things together.
Summary Statement for Par. #4

Instruction: Read Summary Statement #1 and #2 and #3 and #4 out loud before reading Paragraph # 5
Par. #5 After arriving in Salzburg, my boyfriend from back came to visit.  The housing arrangement in Salzburg was much more to my liking than it had been in Passau. We were able to stay on the palace grounds of the Schloss Klessheim (Schloss means “palace”), and the grounds were beautiful. We learned later that the students were housed in a converted stable, but that didn’t matter. We were on the grounds of a European palace, and thought we were in paradise! This time, most of the students were college students from the US and the classes were more interesting than they had been at the Goethe Institut. They included music and even tickets to the Salzburg Music Festival! I went to my first opera. I met new friends and we would travel downtown in the evening to find string quartets performing in the streets. The whole town was filled with music and excitement. I felt like I was in another world, not just another country! I was sorry to see it end. 
Summary Statement for Par. #5

Instruction: Read Summary Statement #1 and #2 and #3 and #4 and #5 out loud before reading Paragraph # 6
Par. #6 I had thought about staying in Austria for the next academic year, but got homesick and flew home at the end of the summer.  To this day, I wonder what my life might have been like if I had stayed in Austria that year. No doubt, my life would have been different. I have no regrets, however. I’m just sort of curious. I learned so much during the Summer of 1972 that I have to say it was, by far, my best summer vacation ever! I learned how to handle disappointment and loneliness.  I learned how to make friends. It was not always “fun” and it certainly was not always “comfortable” (especially that train trip sleeping in the hallway), but it was certainly memorable.                                          Summary Statement for Par. #6

Use the space below to write down what you remember from this article.

What happened during this summer vacation?

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