Chapter III.

Tips for Reading the Interviews with Former Slaves

Read the Chapter Introductions and the Introductions to Each Interview/Narrative. The introductions are short and easy to read, and can help you identify important issues, topics, and events to look for while you read.

Focus on the Big Picture. The first time you read each narrative, rather than concentrating on following and understanding each and every detail, concentrate on gaining a sense of the overall topic or event described by each narrative. You can always go back and re-read.

Keep Reading without Stopping. Stopping every time you come across a word or term you don't know or understand will slow you down, detracting from the overall impact of the narrative. In most cases, even if you don't know a specific word, you can still understand the gist of the interviewee's description. In many cases, you'll even be able to figure out what a word or term means based on the context. You can quickly jot down any terms or words you don't know to look up or research after you are finished reading the entire selection.

Read More than Once. The first time you read, focus on the big picture, and read straight through without stopping. However, if there are certain sections that particularly interest or intrigue you, re-read them. The next time you read, you can go through more slowly and thoroughly, appreciating individual details, concentrating on the language, noticing specific images, words and phrases.

Read Out Loud. Since these are transcriptions of spoken interviews, they have a logic and flow that is more like spoken conversation than formal written English. If you read the selections out loud, hearing the words as they were originally spoken, you can better recapture that rhythm, and more of it will make sense. This is especially true of those narratives written in dialect; on the page, this writing can look bizarre and unfamiliar, but as soon as you start reading out loud, it sounds more like regular spoken speech.

Keep a Reading Journal. Writing is one of the best ways to help improve reading comprehension. When you write about something, you begin the work of processing information and making it a part of your knowledge. You also more formally articulate your thoughts, questions, and responses regarding what you read in a way you wouldn't if you simply closed the book and walked away. You therefore might consider keeping a Reading Journal as you go through Remembering Slavery. After reading each chapter, or individual slave narrative, take a few minutes to freewrite in your journal. (See description of freewriting in Chapter 2). You can also use the journal to respond to the questions included in this Reading Guide, as well as to write down any of your own questions or thoughts about the material. You might even sketch some drawings, or write a poem or short story. It's your journal; you can do what you like in it.

Form a Book Discussion Group. The journal provides a means of discussing the book with yourself; however, it can also be extremely valuable to discuss what you read with others. Consider forming an informal discussion group, with friends and/or family. This will provide an opportunity for you to hear other people's reactions and questions, and share your own. Very often, by expressing a thought out loud, you begin to pinpoint exactly what you understand and/or how you feel In a group, each member will have his or her own individual areas of interest, expertise and knowledge to share.

Make a plan to meet as a group after everyone has had a chance to read a portion of the book. Since the narratives lend themselves so well to reading out loud, you might have some dramatic readings from the book; different members of the group might choose passages they find particulary interesting or troubling, and prepare recitations to be done before the group. This will make the group meetings particularly engaging.

For some tips on how to run your discussion group, read the section on forming a discussion group in the Tips for Listening section in Chapter 2.

Use the Reading Guide: This Reading Guide is like having your own personal tutor or discussion partner for Remembering Slavery, with a variety of activities and questions to help make reading a more interesting, informative, and meaningful experience. For each of the book's five sections, you'll find, as with the Listening Guide, a Preview to help you begin thinking about that chapter's important issues before you start reading, and a Reading Goal with topics to focus on while reading. Since you may not have time to read the entire chapter, each section of the Learning Guide includes a listing of Selected Readings that you might focus on to get an overall sense of the chapter's issues and themes. Following the Selected Readings are a series of thought-provoking, informative, and interesting Follow-Up Questions and Additional Activities. Remember to freewrite in response to any questions you find in the Reading Guide (see freewriting description in Chapter 2).

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