Improve Reading Skills

Woman lying on sofa reading book.
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Reading is an important part of learning English, but many students find it difficult. This collection of tips will help you improve reading by using skills you use in your own language. 

Tip 1: Read for Gist

Gist = the main ideas

Read the text a first time. Don't stop. Read to understand the main ideas, and don't look up new words. You'll be surprised that you can usually understand the general idea of the story.

Tip 2: Use Context

Context refers words and situations that are around a word you don't understand. Look at the example sentence:

I went to the shlumping to buy some chitla for dinner. 

What's 'schlumping'? - it must be a store because you bought something there.

What's 'chitia'? - It must be food because you are going to eat it for dinner.

Tip 3: Use Your Own Language

One of the best tips on improving reading is to think about how you read in your own language. Start by thinking about how you read different documents. How do you read the newspaper? How do you read novels? How do you read train schedules? and so on. Taking time to think about this will help give you clues on how to read in English - even if you don't understand every single word.

Ask yourself this question: Do I read every word in your own language when I am reading a schedule, summary, or other outlining document?

The answer is most definitely: No!

Reading in English is like reading in your native language. This means that it is not always necessary to read and understand each and every word in English. Remember that reading skills in your native language and English are basically the same.

Tip 4: Understand Different Reading Skills

Here is a quick overview of the four types of reading skills used in every language:

Skimming - used to understand the "gist" or main idea
Scanning - used to find a particular piece of information
Extensive reading - used for pleasure and general understanding
Intensive reading - accurate reading for detailed understanding

Skimming

Skimming is used to quickly gather the most important information, or 'gist'. Run your eyes over the text, noting important information. Use skimming to quickly get up to speed on a current business situation. It's not essential to understand each word when skimming.

Examples of Skimming:

  • The Newspaper (quickly to get the general news of the day)
  • Magazines (quickly to discover which articles you would like to read in more detail)
  • Business and Travel Brochures (quickly to get informed)

Scanning

Scanning is used to find a particular piece of information. Run your eyes over the text looking for the specific piece of information you need. Use scanning on schedules, meeting plans, etc. in order to find the specific details you require. If you see words or phrases that you don't understand, don't worry when scanning.

Examples of Scanning

  • The "What's on TV" section of your newspaper.
  • A train / airplane schedule
  • A conference guide

This lesson plan focusing on scanning reading skills can be of help in practicing these skills on your own or in printed out for in-class use.

Extensive reading

Extensive reading is used to obtain a general understanding of a subject and includes reading longer texts for pleasure, as well as business books. Use extensive reading skills to improve your general knowledge of business procedures. Do not worry if you understand each word.

Examples of Extensive Reading

  • The latest marketing strategy book
  • A novel you read before going to bed
  • Magazine articles that interest you

This lesson focusing on improving vocabulary through extensive reading can be of help putting these skills into practice.

Intensive reading

Intensive reading is used on shorter texts in order to extract specific information. It includes very close accurate reading for detail. Use intensive reading skills to grasp the details of a specific situation. In this case, it is important that you understand each word, number or fact.

Examples of Intensive Reading

  • A bookkeeping report
  • An insurance claim
  • A contract

Now that you've reviewed the four reading skills, take this reading skills quiz to help you improve reading skills through understanding of these basic reading types.

Improve Other English Skills

You can use these reading skills in a number of ways to improve other areas of English learning such as pronunciation, grammar and increasing vocabulary.

Reading Tips to Improve Your Pronunciation
Reading Tips to Improve Your Vocabulary
Reading Tips to Improve Your Conversational Skills
Reading Tips to Improve Your Grammar
Reading Tips to Improve Your Listening Skills

Next, review your understanding of these four basic reading skills. If you teach an English course, you can use these quick review texts in class, as well as this lesson plan focusing on identifying reading skills.