Unit 1.7 – Reading Skills

Model of reading to learning, reading tactics and strategies, reading purposes – kind of purposes and associated apprehensions, reading for meaning, reading outcomes.

Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.’ (Joseph Addison)

When we read anything, our objective is not to look at every word and picture as fast as we can. Rather, it is to identify and understand useful ideas as efficiently as possible, and then to either transfer this information to long-term memory or note it for future reference.

Imagine arriving at a large lake and being told that somewhere in the water, there is a buried treasure. You could either put on your trunks and go for a swim, or jump in a high-speed boat with radar programmed to detect the presence of anything resembling the treasure. This would allow you to do a fairly quick observation over the entire lake, noting the areas that look the most promising, and then going back to each promising location, drop an anchor, and go for a dive. You are much more likely to find the treasure because you will have eliminated huge portions of the lake very quickly.

When it comes to reading, your subconscious mind is your radar and it is “programmed” when you invest time “self-communicating” the outcome you are trying to create.

When it comes to reading selectively, the most important thing is to make sure you are swimming in the right lake! When presented with an information-rich environment, such as a bookstore or a trade convention, invest time for getting clear on your goals, and then do some high-speed scans over the entire terrain before diving into a single book or booth. It often takes discipline to finish the complete scan before stopping at an extremely promising location.

Strategies to activate your prior knowledge:


  1. Examine the title of the selection you are about to read
  2. List all the information that comes to mind about this title
  3. Use these pieces of information to recall and understand the material
  4. Use this knowledge to reframe or reorder what you know, or to note what you disagree with, for further research.

Group Discussion:

Group discussions in and out of class will help you discover what you bring to your reading, what your fellow students bring, as well as shared experiences. If you find they have new background information, ask for more information from them.


Discussing information about the selection or assignment prior to reading must take place. This may take the form of class discussions, printed previews, photographs, outlines, or films. Spend enough time before the students begin the assignment to ensure understanding of it.

Vocabulary Previews:

Unfamiliar key words need to be taught to students before reading so that new words, background information, and comprehension can improve simultaneously. List all words in the assignment that may be important for students to understand. Arrange words to show the relationships to the learning task. Add words students probably already understand to connect relationships between what is known and the unknown. Share information with students. Verbally quiz them on the information before assigned reading begins.

Structural Organizers:

Before reading an assignment, the basic frameworks, which are included in the text, should be pointed out to identify if it is a cause-effect or problem-solution. It can be beneficial to bring attention to specific plans of paragraph or text organization such as signal words, main idea sentences, highlighted phrases, headings and subtitles. A review of skimming techniques might also be appropriate as these various areas are covered.

Purposeful Reading:

When students have a purpose for reading a selection, they find that purpose not only directs their reading towards a goal, but also helps to sharpen their attention. Purposes may come from a teacher directing questions, as well as questions from class discussions or brainstorming, or from the individual student. Along with the question, it is a good idea to pose predictions of the outcome and problems, which need to be solved. The student or the teacher may generate these, but the teacher should use these to guide students in the needed direction for the assigned selection.

Reading is purposeful. The way you read will depend on your intention with the reading material. You read different texts in different ways. In everyday life, you usually know why you are reading, you have a question and you read to find the answer. You usually know your way around your favourite newspaper, so if you want to know the sports results, you go straight to the correct page, or if you want to know what is on television tonight, you go straight to the television page. You do not start on the first page.

When you read a novel, it is different. You start at the beginning and slowly move towards the end. In academic reading, you need to be flexible when you read – you may need to read quickly to find relevant sections, then read carefully when you have found what you want. General efficient reading strategies such as scanning to find the book or chapter, skimming to get the gist and careful reading of important passages are necessary as well as crucial to learning about how texts are structured in your subject.

Author Consideration:

Depending on the content area, a discussion of the author of the particular work can be helpful to the understanding of it. What is the author trying to say? What is his point of view and his reason for writing the particular work?

Layered Reading

In addition to using your subconscious mental radar, you can read books more selectively by using a layered reading approach. Here are four phases that commonly show up in layered reading strategies:

  1. Overview: Look over the entire book at the rate of 1 second per page to determine its organization, structure and tone. Try to finish the overview in 5 minutes.
  2. Preview: Should you decide to read further, preview the first chapter at a rate of 4 seconds per page. Pay particular attention to beginnings and endings such as the introduction and conclusion, and the first sentences of paragraphs and sections. Mark key sections with Post-it tabs or a yellow marker.
  3. Read: If any part of the chapter warrants closer attention, go back and read it at whatever speed seems appropriate.
  4. Review: As discussed in the following section on memory, doing short reviews periodically after reading new ideas can significantly increase the amount of detailed information that makes it into long-term memory.

There are several advantages to having seen every page of a document. It partially eliminates the intimidation of the unknown. It is also much easier to comprehend material at rapid speeds when your eyes have already seen the material twice, even if it is only briefly. Lastly, your right brain is a lot happier about the whole situation because it has at least some idea of the context or overall picture in which the material is being presented. Saying that someone has one reading speed is like having a car that only goes one speed. Different material calls for different speeds. Layered reading is about being flexible in the strategy you use to extract useful ideas from written material.

Here are some additional suggestions for reading more selectively:

  1. Focus on key words and ignore filler words. As discussed in the previous chapter, most of the meaning in sentences is transferred by a few key words. Many times it is unnecessary to read all the “is’s” and “the’s”.
  2. Skip what you already know. As you transfer more and more knowledge from an area into long-term memory, the sections you can skip will become larger and thus accelerate your journey along the compound learning curve.
  3. Skip material that doesn’t apply to you.
  4. Skip material that seems particularly confusing and come back to it if necessary after reading other sections. Books are linear while their subject matter is often multi-dimensional. “Nothing we use or hear or touch can be expressed in words that equal what we are given by the senses.” It may be far easier to understand the material in light of the information that follows. Giving your subconscious time to incubate the material might help as well.

Reading outcomes

Reading is an interactive process – it is a two-way process. As a reader, you are not passive but active. This means you have to work at constructing the meaning from the marks on the paper, which you use as necessary. You construct the meaning using your knowledge of the language, your subject and the world, continually predicting and assessing.

The four types of framing are:

  1. Extra textual framing – using your background knowledge and experience to understand texts.
  2. Intra textual framing – making use of cues from the text, such as headings and sub-headings and referential words such as “this” and “that” to understand texts.
  3. Circum textual framing – using information from the cover of the book, title, abstract etc. to understand the text.
  4. Inter textual framing – making connections with other texts you are reading to help to understand your text.

You need to be active all the time when you are reading and use all the information that is available. It is useful, therefore, before you start reading, to try to actively remember what you know, and do not know, about the subject and formulate questions based on the information you have. All the information given above can be used to help you formulate them to keep you interacting.

Useful skills are:

  1. Understanding text structure/organization. Understanding the text organization will help you understand the writer’s purpose and where to find other information.
  2. Understanding conceptual meaning, e.g. comparison, purpose, cause, effect
  3. Understanding reference in the text, e.g. it, he, this, that, these those
  4. Dealing with difficult words and sentences.
  5. Critical reading: it deals with Reading critically – evaluating arguments, weighing evidence, recognizing implications, and assumptions, the author’s point of view.

Taking notes

  1. Read a section of your textbook chapter: Read just enough to keep an understanding of the material. Do not take notes, but rather focus on understanding the material. It is tempting to take notes as you are reading them the first time. This is not an efficient technique; you are likely to take down too much information and simply copy without understanding.
  2. Review the material: Locate the main ideas, as well as important sub-points. Set the book aside. Paraphrase this information: Putting the textbook information in your own words forces you to become actively involved with the material.
  3. Write the paraphrased ideas as your notes. Do not copy information directly from the textbook. Add only enough details to understand the context.