This is the sixth in a series of posts related to the six Strategies covered in my book Practical Reading Strategies. You can buy a copy of the book here. Check out the previous four posts on Making Connections, Visualising, Questioning, Inferring and Summarising.
Synthesising is the final of the six Reading Strategies. As I mention in the introduction to the book, there’s no necessary hierarchy or order for the Strategies – it’s sometimes appropriate to use activities from Making Connections at the beginning of a study, and sometimes at the end. Visualising activities might take place on the first reading of a passage, or during the closing pages of a novel.
But Synthesising activities must, by definition, take place at or near the end of study. This might mean using them at the end of a novel or unit, or at the end of a section of a unit of work, for example when studying a particularly meaningful and complex issue or idea.
Join the mailing list for an exclusive three part video series busting the three most common myths about TEEL and other formulaic writing structures!
What is synthesis?
The word ‘synthesis’ has its origins in Greek and means to ‘bring together’. Compare this with another word common to the English classroom: analysis. ‘Analysis’ comes from analusis, which means ‘to loosen’. So, when we ask students to analyse, we are asking them to break a text into its component parts – to ‘loosen’ the text into units of meaning, symbols and ideas. When we ask students to synthesise, on the other hand, we are asking them to bring together all of these disparate points into a new whole.
Synthesis activities are therefore a logical end point, ‘bringing together’ all of the threads of a student’s study.
In Practical Reading Strategies I explore in full how to bring together activities from the other five Strategies to make for a comprehensive synthesis of ideas. I also offer suggestions on constructing units of work around the Strategies, and Synthesising activities often form one of the final pieces of assessment.
The example above shows one of those ‘bringing together’ moments. Throughout the study of the novel Frankenstein, students completed many different Text Walks. Some were chronological, spanning a handful of chapters in an ‘abridged’ approach to the text. Others focused on characters or particular features, such as elements of the Gothic genre.
Students pinned the term’s worth of Text Walks to the wall and literally drew connections between their annotations, using thread and pins and creating something that looks suspiciously like a crime evidence pin board…
The activity – which I’ve started calling the Mega Map – allows students to pull together all of the separate ideas gleaned from the text over a course of study, and to visualise new links between existing ideas. Importantly, the Mega Map is more than just a revision tool. Students are not simply reorganising or reviewing what they have learned; they are developing a new and deeper awareness about how the parts of the text contribute to the whole.
Practical Reading Strategies contains clearly explained activities for Synthesising and the other five Strategies. Join the mailing list for more resources and activities.