PPA—a Reading Strategy

One of the first reading strategies we will employ is PPA, which means Preview, Predict and Annotate. 

How it works...
Before reading, readers make a prediction about the text based on previewing the title, chapter titles and descriptions of the book. Readers should ask themselves what is this book going to be about? What do I think will happen in the book? What is the subject of this book? Readers should then briefly reflect on what they know about this subject(s) before reading. This process activates the reader's existing schema. Simply stated, schema is a mental framework built from the reader's prior experience. (We will discuss schema theory in class). Annotating is the process of taking notes in the margins, underlining key phrases and highlighting key terms or vocabulary. Annotating is similar to talking with the text, only you are using the pen and your notes to record the conversation. Predicting, or revising and making a new prediction based on new information, and annotating continue all the way through until the end of the book. When you are done, you will have your notes and highlights to help you remember important passages. This will save you time when it comes to writing your paper and will also help you solve problems during our group work. Continuing to predict throughout the book, helps to re-activate your schema as your understanding of the book (and characters) continues to evolve.

Why does schema matter?

Advanced readers automatically go through this process of previewing and predicting, often without even being aware they are doing so. For example, when I am in a bookstore, I will examine a book's cover and thumb through the pages (preview). I will use this information to decide what I think the book is about (predict), and I will then evaluate whether or not I want to read (evaluate). At this point, I either buy the book, or place it back on the shelf. 

In class, you don't have the luxury of re-shelving the book. Sorry! But this process of previewing and predicting still helps you to make a personal connection with the book before you read. Even if the prediction is wrong, by predicting you are activating your brain and giving it a 'heads up' as to what is coming next. Your brain likes this information because it can more efficiently interpret the words on the page if it already knows a little bit about the subject matter. In this way, your own schemata, or prior experience, improves comprehension. This active connection between you and the text allows your brain to better grasp the ideas conveyed in the text, to visualize the text, and get beyond a mere word by word decoding of the text.

There is, perhaps, a more constant re-evaluation done by the reader while reading fiction than in non-fiction because the reader's initial prediction is more likely to be in flux as the characters and the plot continues to unfold. Proficient readers go through this process automatically and might not even be aware of the work they are doing, but researchers have studied these readers and identified these habits as the keys to their success. 

Hopefully, the book you are reading engages you and you will automatically PPA, but if you find your mind drifting along with your focus, then try PPA to make your reading more active. Active engagement with the text, through previewing (skimming), predicting (questioning), and annotating (evaluating/writing in the margins) has been proven to increase comprehension, which is especially important to college students because increased comprehension means higher scores on papers, quizzes and exams.

Did you know that reading slowly, one word at a time, decreases comprehension? 

This is because the brain is bogged down in interpreting (decoding) words and not engaged in the bigger picture being conveyed by the words. Advanced readers tend to read three or more words at a time because clusters of words more quickly assemble ideas and better engage the reader in the story. If you think you are reading one word at a time, come and see me and ask me about Eye Sweeps—an easy reading strategy that will train your brain to read clusters of words. We will also talk about the link between vocabulary and comprehension.

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