Strategies for Reading Comprehension
Selective Underlining


What Is Selective Underlining?
Well, there's underlining, and there's underlining selectively. [By the way, even though I'm using the word "underlining," you can feel free to know that that also means highlighting.] The way to make underlining useful as a tool for comprehension is for it to be strategic, selective, and purposeful. The underlining must be undertaken toward particular ends.

Do you remember how wonderful it was to discover the highlighter, perhaps when you were in college? I know that for me, I was more likely NOT to read the stuff I was highlighting. For some reason, that's the effect that a highlighter had on me. Or maybe I'd look back at the selection and find I'd pretty much colored the whole darn thing yellow. With selective underlining (and highlighting!), the idea is to underline ONLY the key words, phrases, vocabulary, and ideas that are central to understanding the piece. Students should be taught this strategy explicitly, given time and means to practice, and reinforced for successful performance.

How Can I Teach My Students to Selectively Underline?
There are several ways to go about it. You may be saying, "Selective underlining is all well and good, but have you eggheads up in the university forgotten that we use textbooks, and that our kids only get to use them for the year, but we have to use them at least five years??" That's a fair question, so how can you teach this strategy anyway?

  1. First of all, let's realize that not every single bit of text you have students read is in a textbook and untouchable.
  2. Second, consider seeking out appropriate content sources, such as newspapers, that students can indeed learn this strategy with while still pursuing meaningful social studies goals.
  3. Third, think about how you can get around the problem of textbooks that can't be marked in. For instance, in order to teach the strategy, you might photocopy a page or two out of the text that students use and distribute it to them. Make an overhead of that selection for yourself. Model for them and guide them in practicing the strategy on the photocopies. Alternatively, if you have enough of the materials available to you, give each student a sheet of transparency film, some paperclips, and some overhead pens. Let them practice directly on their texts by using the transparencies.

Think about how this strategy would work when combined with power thinking. Students might put a box around Power 1 ideas; an oval around Power 2 ideas; and an underline under Power 3 ideas.

Students might also use different colors in their underlining. Power 1s could be blue, Power 2s could be red, and Power 3s could be green.

Practice selective underlining for different purposes: underline key vocabulary and its definitions or explanations, and use this as an opportunity to focus on how authors reveal the meaning of new terms within the context. Or have students underline cause and effect. Or ask them to underline the facts and concepts that support a particular viewpoint, as might be useful with a strategy such as Opinion-Proof. Remember, you're limited only by your own imagination with teaching and applying selective underlining.



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