Building a mental model

What readers remember of a text is not the wording (the ‘linguistic form’) but the meaning. A good reader derives an overall representation of the meaning of the text. This is sometimes called a ‘mental model’ (Johnson-Laird, 1983) or a ‘situation model’ (Kintsch, 1998) in which the readers’ mental representation of the text goes beyond the literal version. It is embellished by their background knowledge and their imaginations.

A reader will need to do different things to generate a mental model depending on the type of text. It mostly happens without conscious thought and deliberation in a skilled reader. In the case of a story, the reader needs to identify the main characters and their motives, since a good deal of the plot of stories revolves around main characters’ motives. In the case of informational (expository) text, the reader needs to identify the topic of the text, follow the argument structure, extract the key ideas and end up with a general or ‘gist’ representation of what the text is about.

"A mental model is a mental representation that is created from information in the real, or an imagined, world – i.e. a gist representation of what the comprehender has read (or heard, or seen). It might, but does not necessarily, include imagery".

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