What is the best way to become a good reader/writer?What is the best way to become a good reader/writer?

30 Answers

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I tend to disagree with all those answers which suggest that the way to become a better writer is to do a lot of reading. The way to become a better reader, in my opinion, is to do a lot of reading; but the way to become a better writer is to do a lot of writing. Here is what Schopenhauer has to say on the subject--and it is worth considering.

When we read, someone else thinks for us; we repeat merely his mental process. It is like the pupil who, when learning to write, goes over with his pen the strokes made in pencil by the teacher. Accordingly, when we read, the work of thinking is for the most part taken away from us. Hence the noticeable relief when from preoccupation with our thoughts we pass to reading. But while we are reading our mind is really only the playground of other people’s ideas; and when these finally depart, what remains? The result is that, whoever reads very much and almost the entire day but at intervals amuses himself with thoughtless pastime, gradually loses the ability to think for himself; just as a man who always rides ultimately forgets how to walk. But such is the case with very many scholars; they have read themselves stupid. For constant reading, which is at once resumed at every free moment, is even more paralysing to the mind than is manual work; for with the latter we can give free play to our own thoughts. Just as a spring finally loses its elasticity through the constant pressure of a foreign body, so does the mind through continual pressure of other people’s ideas. Just as we upset the stomach by too much food and thereby do harm to the whole body, so can we cram and strangle the mind by too much mental pabulum. For the more we read, the fewer the traces that are left behind in the mind by what has been read. It becomes like a blackboard whereon many things have been written over one another. Hence we never come to ruminate; but only through this do we assimilate what we have read, just as food nourishes us not by being eaten but by being digested. On the other hand, if we are forever reading without afterwards thinking further about what we have read, this does not take root and for the most part is lost. Generally speaking, it is much the same with mental nourishment as with bodily; scarcely a fiftieth part of what is taken is assimilated; the rest passes off through evaporation, respiration, or otherwise.
                    Schopenhauer, "On Reading and Books"

Schopenhauer himself did a lot of reading in many different languages, but he also did a lot of writing and a lot of thinking. Reading can be confusing to a young writer, because there are so many different styles of writing, and it is natural for young writers to imitate. It is not a good way to develop your own style or, for that matter, to get in touch with your own thoughts. 

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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The best way to become a good reader is to read.  The same is true with writing.  Reading a lot, high quality and slightly challenging material, makes you both a better reader and a better writer.  You also become a good writer by WRITING.  Write every day, and you'll improve just with practice!

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ktmagalia | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Assistant Educator

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Seize every opportunity to do both, in all aspects for a variety of purposes. Read the classics, the newspapers, the blogs, the summer fluff reads, anything that is available.  A well-read reader is someone who can pick up any kind of text and successfully converse with its meaning. There also is a connection between the strong and competent reader and the writer.  It's all communication.  If a person struggles with reading, it's a "no brainer" that he or she will struggle with writing. So it all boils down to practice.  Malcolm Gladwell, in Outliers, wrote "practice isn't something you do once you're good. It's the thing you do that makes you good." We put this quote on the back of our AP shirts this year. Words to live by, that's for sure.

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livetoteach | College Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

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As others have said, I believe that reading and writing are both "practices" that improve with cultivation.  Like playing a sport or a musical instruction, you'll find that both get easier and more enjoyable with repetition.  However, it's also important to choose formats (novels, magazine articles, comic books, poetry, etc.) and subjects (science fiction, current affairs, romance, etc.) that really interest you.  If you are really interested in, and connect with, what you're reading (or writing about), the experience will be much more enjoyable for you (and for your audience, when writing); in other words, your interest in the subject helps to take some of the "work" out of the task of reading or writing.  More practice also will make it easier if or when you're assigned a book that really doesn't interest you or an essay on a subject unfamiliar or unappealing to you.  For a fun read on ways to become a more effective writer in this vein, I'd also recommend Stephen King's book On Writing.  Have fun with it!

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geosc | College Teacher | (Level 3) Assistant Educator

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The best way to become a good reader/writer: I have not read the other posts, so I may be repeating.  I have taught reading and writing.  For becomeing good on your own, I like the method that Benjamin Franklin used.  He describes it in his autobiography.  The essays that he used are still good ones today for you to use.

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mrsbundy | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

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Obviously, practice.  Everyone's already stated that strongly, but I think that at some point "read everything" isn't as helpful as "be a discriminating reader."  At some point, you will discover that there is a particular author you really love, and you'll read everything that person wrote, but then you should do a little research about that person's inspirations.  If an author you love really respects another author, chances are you'll like that person too and benefit from reading their work.

I also think that setting goals is a good strategy.  Find a list like "The 100 Most Recommended Books of the 20th Century" and read the whole list.  Or challenge yourself to read 20 of them.  Or choose a region of the world and read books by, say, 5 different African authors, or choose a time period or literary movement and read 5 novels written by, say, the Romantics.  This approach will give you more opportunity to analyze similarities and differences and further challenge yourself intellectually.

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linda-allen | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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The best way to become a good reader is to read--everything. The best way to become a good writer is to read what good writers have written and use them as examples.

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susan3smith | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

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Other than practice, it is  a good idea to have support groups--writing groups/ book clubs.  It seems that many great writers profitted from their association with other writers who served to encourage, criticize, comment on each others' works. A responsive audience is important in the writing process.   

In terms of reading, I find that my book club helps me to be a better reader because I gain different perspectives on the books we read, I have a schedule that I feel committed to follow, and I read books that I would not necessarily have chosen myself.  This association thereby helps hone my skills as a reader. 

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clairewait | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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I agree with EVERYTHING said so far and add only this:

"Multi-tasking" in my opinion is a bad habit.  If I were giving a job interview and the answer "multi-tasker" came up as a strength, I would end the interview.  I'd rather have someone who can start one task, focus on it completely, and finish it expertly, than the person spread thinly over several tasks, accomplishing more perhaps, but sacrificing quality.

Our technological generation feeds the multi-tasker mentality.  I think our entire society would do well to stop, slow down, quiet ourselves, read, write, think, meditate.  Turn off the computer, the cell phone, the iPod, the TV... do one thing at a time and do it well.  Even if the work is slow, it will get easier and better with such an approach.

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amy-lepore | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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In order to be better at anything--reading, writing, tennis, chess, video games, public speaking--is to practice!  The more you read, the smarter you are.  The more words you are exposed to, the more language you see and have experience with, the better able you are to correctly write your own sentences and to express exactly the idea you want.  Read, read, read every day!  To write well, you must find time every day to sit and write.  Record ideas in a small notebook which may inspire stories, poems, essays, etc. 

Practice, practice, practice.

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kiwi | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

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There is so much good advice with reading. Ask for help from people you trust to recommend reading which may broaden your horizons: a good librarian will enjoy the opportunity to discuss what you have already read and where you could go next.

With writing, ideas on a critical friend to review your work is really useful, but so is looking back at your own work to see what you could rework/improve/develop. I encourage students to use a proofreading checklist with points about surface and deep features of writing to help them review their own work - and that of others.

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sboeman | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Assistant Educator

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If students are struggling with reading, I often ask them about their study habits: are you reading while listening to music? with the TV on? while checking e-mails?  If so, then they should stop-this can be extremely distracting, even though students might feel they "need" it or it helps them focus.

After reading a selection, students can also retain more by relating the passage to themselves, another story, or the world in general (more commonly known as text-to-self, text-to-text, and text-to-world, respectively).  Other ideas?  Tell someone else about what you've read, draw a picture of it, change it into a poem or playscript, put the character(s) on a talk show, etc., etc.

Any student, I believe, can improve his or her writing-it's just a simple question of wanting to be a better writer.  It's important for writers to find their "voice", or "style", that's unique to them.  In music, for example, many of us can hear a new guitar solo and immediately recognize the band; likewise, avid readers can recognize a particular writer's sound.   Of course, though, this means the author already has a uniqueness to his or her writing.  A good start may simply be analyzing others' writings and determining what make them so appealing to you-use them as a source of inspiration for your own.

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bullgatortail | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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Ms. Westwood took the words right out of my mouth. "Read, read, read" is the best way to become a better reader. Ask questions, look up vocabulary words or terms that are uncertain, and widen your variety of fiction and non-fiction. The same can be said for writing. By paying close attention to the words you read (and how the writers use them), writers can emulate others before settling down to their own style. The old adage, "Practice makes perfect," is certainly true here.

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lfawley | College Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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I agree with what has already been said to you in terms of advice. I tell my students all the time that the best way to become a better writer is to read as much as you possibly can. You can read anything from popular fiction to magazine articles, as long as you are reading work that has been edited and is written using proper English. The more familiar you become with correct grammar and usage, the more natural it will be for you to use it in your won writing. The placement of commas will become automatic, as well the correct use of verbs, pronouns and other parts of speech. You will begin to use it because you have seen it used and it has become a part of the language that you are comfortable with.

Also, be sure to write regularly. Write your thoughts down in a journal. Describe the scene that you see when you look outside. Write a response to something that you have just read. If you read something that you like, try to write emulating the style that the writer that you liked used. Soon, you will start to discover your own voice that is comprised of what you have read ion the past combined with your life experiences. This becomes your unique writer's voice!

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scarletpimpernel | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The more you read, generally the better writer you will become as long as you read quality works.  I have had so many students in the past several years who rely on SparkNotes or other such "helps" for everything.  They read summaries and intepretations of works instead of the author's own words.  This sets back a student tremendously in regards to not only his being able to comprehend complex styles and ideas but also in his ability to be able to model good writing.

One more tip in regards to your writing, pay attention to your teacher's comments on your graded assignments.  Your teachers write those comments and suggestions for a reason.  If you do not have writing conferences with your teacher, take the time to ask him or her which writing skills you need to develop.

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