Thinking Globally, Acting Locally: A Crucial Reading Comprehension Goal

You’ve undoubtedly seen one of the many versions of the Think Global, Act Local bumper stickers. The tagline is a crafty rallying cry that reminds people to consider the health of the entire planet, but to take action in their communities. The simple slogan is brilliant, as it communicates a problem that can seem overwhelming in an empowering way. It’s convincing message that there’s a huge planet out there that you personally can affect from your local community arouses a “can do” spirit within us. For many students, reading textbooks or complex texts can be completely overwhelming. They often don’t know how to start and seldom have the proper metrics in mind to determine whether they actually comprehend the text their eyes are encountering. I’ve trained our tutors to use the concept of thinking globally and acting locally as a way of helping students organize and process texts. This relatively simple adjustment of the mind has produced astounding results!

Below are the top three benefits according to students, along with my commentary on the cognitive experiences that underlie their description.

  • I spend less time reading, but get much more out of it.” This is the most common effect of enacting the strategy. All text is centered upon organizing principles.  For example, each section of text in a chemistry textbook is organized around, say, 5-7 key principles. Yet that section may use numerous terms, graphs, definitions, examples and other supporting information to illuminate the five to seven organizing principles. By using the strategy, students are able to see the relationship between the supporting factual information and the more consequential, deeper concepts.
  • I actually find reading more enjoyable. This may come as a surprise to many educators (because it certainly surprises the students), but it’s a frequent comment from students. When they move beyond memorizing and are freed to use a variety of thinking skills, they interact with the material at a much deeper level. As students use their cognitive skills to connect information in the ways in which our minds are designed to interact, they transition from passively reading content to interacting with concepts, a far more pleasurable experience.
  • Consider the following feedback from a high school senior who participated in one of my workshops in October of this year. (The class was reading The Catcher in the Rye.)

In my English class, we are required to write a summary and a quote statement about each chapter we read. Normally I would do exactly what is told, but lately I have been writing down a lot about my personal opinion and the character. I have also noticed myself going off task sometimes because I get so into what is going on in the chapter. Wouldn’t we all like students to become so engrossed in reading assignments that they lose track of time? This student is not just reading to get to the end; she’s having a transformative experience. “This has helped me become a better thinker and writer.” Better reading produces better thinking, which makes for better writing. Educators are well aware of the symbiotic relationships among reading, writing and thinking. As students deliberately exercise their thinking skills throughout the reading process (as the strategy teaches them), they subsume the structure of the text. This process automatically expands their thinking capacity and, more specifically, their ability to mentally represent the material. These cognitive experiences are precursors to good writing.

Continuing with the example of the high school student, she stated, Before my session with the LearnWell Projects, I would have kept reading and end up getting confused out of boredom, but now I noticed myself stopping and trying to put myself in his shoes. I would question “why” or “how come” and even “is it because” questions… It [the reading] has become so much clearer because it gives a general idea of what could and could not happen and it kept me entertained throughout the book. This student is interacting with the text in a much deeper manner.  The strategy has provided her a mental framework that takes her beyond her normal passive reading to an interrogative style of reading, promoting active learning and increased comprehension. Thinking globally and acting locally is a central idea in a reading comprehension strategy that I developed called Text and Textbook Navigation. I’ve found that just as the Think Global, Act Local slogan connects local communities to the larger global issues, this reading strategy helps students connect “local” information to their larger “global” context. Below is a brief summary of the strategy. The goal of the Text and Textbook Navigation strategy is to use the text structure to align local points within the context of their global destinations and then use specific thinking skills to with corresponding segments of text.

Context: Think of reading as a journey. Along the way there are routes that are taken to reach the ultimate destination.  Likewise, the image above features local routes (represented by the home icons) and global destinations (represented by the globe icons). The local destinations, which are always more numerous, are used to reach each respective global destination.


  1. Find the global destinations. These are usually listed at the beginning of the chapter. In the passage above, they are listed as learning outcomes. Most students overlook these valuable tools and go directly to the local destinations.
  2. Show the relationship between the global destinations and their respective local destinations. For example, the passage above tells students that the first learning outcome (global destination) is about “matter, mass and weight.” Notice that the heading of the first segment is entitled “Matter, Mass and Weight.” The second outcome is aligned with the second segment of text. This pattern continues throughout the book. This sequencing is essential to the Text and Textbook Navigation strategy.
  3. Activate readers’ metacognitive abilities (i.e., their capacity to think about their thinking) by pointing out the directive verbs within each learning outcome. In the image above, the first learning outcomes begin with the word “define.” The author is providing guidance to readers about what they should be able to do after reading this segment of text: define matter, mass and weight. Notice that the second outcome begins with “distinguish….” This is a critical message to students. Defining information and distinguishing between information require very different thinking skills. To successfully reach the second global destination, the students must consciously adjust their thinking levels. This is a foreign experience for students. However, it can be accomplished rather quickly when trained to use the ThinkWell-LearnWell Diagram.
  4. Teach them to guide and gauge.  Show the students how to use the global destinations as comprehension guides that anchor their understanding as they read and then as subsequent gauges of learning as they complete their reading.

Tip: Students reflexively settle on memorization of facts when reading. This is usually reflected by the bold print. To increase students’ receptivity to the strategy, have them compare the number or local destinations (bold print) to global destinations. Recognizing that there are far more local routes to remember than outcomes to learn will increase students’ willingness to adopt the strategy.

Training readers to navigate the textbook and hold global conceptual information in mind as they “act” on the local content will enhance students’ reading in the following ways:

  1. Increased reading interest
  2. Improved reading efficiency
  3. Increased reading comprehension
  4. Improved mental representation abilities
  5. Improved organizing abilities

Give the strategy and test drive.  Be sure to share your experience in the “comments” section below.


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