Reading Comprehension Strategy 6: Synthesizing Information

Think for a moment a group of scientists sifting through mounds of data from a host of experiments. Certainly a great deal of information is available, but what they really need to decide is “What does all this mean?”

Eventually, after carefully examining and analyzing their data, they will develop an interpretation, a theory, and a definition of “the big picture” that emerges from all the separate pieces of information. These scientists, like proficient readers, are able to synthesize.

The strategy of synthesizing is perhaps the culmination of the other five essential comprehension strategies. Synthesizing draws upon making connections, questioning, visualizing, inferring, and determining importance.

This strategy allows a reader to step back from a text, and make a generalization, create an interpretation, draw a conclusion, develop an explanation. It is as if the reader pauses periodically, reflects, ponders about the meaning of a text, and then eventually exclaims, “Aha! I get it!”

One key component of synthesizing is summarizing. Children often have a very difficult time summarizing what they read; often they are able to provide a string of disconnected pieces of information or segments of a story, but they may miss major themes or main ideas. A major step to summarizing is asking children to retell what they have read, in their own words.

The strategy of synthesizing involves combining summarizing with the reader’s perspective. When proficient readers talk about a piece of meaningful text, a discussion about an article in the newspaper, for example, or a book club chat about a novel, they don’t just repeat what the text said. Instead, they offer their personal “take” on a selection: “That’s not the way I read it.” “This is what I think the author was getting at.” “I think the character acted this way because . . . .

“Synthesizing can be modeled to children by using an analogy, such as cooking for instance. Cooks read recipes and assemble ingredients to make something, like a cake. But the recipes don’t always turn out exactly the same, because each individual person adds a personal touch to the process.

Some cooks turn out to be great chefs because of their ability to bring their own ideas and experiences into the mix as they work from a recipe. Proficient readers are assembling their own thinking as they read, taking the elements of a text and combining them with their prior knowledge and background experiences to create thoughts, ideas, and understandings. Synthesizing is the process of deriving insight from reading.

Asking children to write about what they have read, to express their thinking in their own words, is an important step in teaching them to synthesize. Writing helps children realize what they have learned, and it provides them with a visual record of their thinking. Writing also allows students the opportunity to continue to refine their thinking as they revisit their thoughts on paper and revise what they have written to clarify and expand their understandings.

The following instructional activities can help children learn the reading strategy of synthesizing:

  • Magnet Summaries
  • Mind Maps
  • Three-Minute Pause
  • Paired Reviews
  • Writing Templates
  • Memory Bubbles
  • Two-Column Notetaking
  • Reciprocal Teaching