Faster Reading Skills

It is important to develop the skill known as Speed Reading. To improve your reading speed, we recommend the following:

  • Don’t read a text ‘word-by-word’: Read the words in their natural grammatical or sense groups. For example: The brave woman /ordered the men/to attack at once.
  • Don’t point to the words with your finger.
  • Don’t worry about individual words you don’t understand – just get the gist, or general idea of the meaning, of a text. The strange words will often then ‘explain themselves’ by the way they are used.

We recommend that you read a text very quickly first, to get an overview of what it is about. You can then read it more slowly in detail later if required.

Faster reading often requires two sub-skills:

scanning – for particular items of information (e.g. you scan a dictionary looking for a particular word)

skimming – for gist (a general idea of the meaning)

Reading Strategies

Previewing: Learning about a text before really reading it.

This simple strategy includes seeing what you can learn from the headnotes or other introductory material, skimming to get an overview of the content and organization.

Contextualizing: Placing a text in its historical, biographical, and cultural contexts.

Your understanding of the words on the page and their significance is informed by what you have come to know and value from living in a particular time and place.

Ask Questions: Asking questions about the content.

As students, you ca ask your teachers questions about your reading. These questions are designed to help you understand a reading and respond to it more fully, and often this technique works.

Outlining and summarizing: Identifying the main ideas and restating them in your own words.

Outlining and summarizing are especially helpful strategies for understanding the content and structure of a reading selection. Whereas outlining reveals the basic structure of the text, summarizing synopsizes a selection’s main argument in brief.

Evaluating an argument: Testing the logic of a text as well as its credibility and emotional impact.

All writers make assertions that they want you to accept as true. As a critical reader, you should not accept anything on face value but to recognize every assertion as an argument that must be carefully evaluated. An argument has two essential parts: a claim and support.

Reading to Learn

Reading is an essential part of language instruction at every level because it supports learning in multiple ways.

  • Reading to learn the language: Reading material is language input. By giving students a variety of materials to read, instructors provide multiple opportunities for students to absorb vocabulary, grammar, sentence structure, and discourse structure as they occur in authentic contexts. Students thus gain a more complete picture of the ways in which the elements of the language work together to convey meaning.
  • Reading for content information: Students’ purpose for reading in their native language is often to obtain information about a subject they are studying, and this purpose can be useful in the language learning classroom as well. Reading for content information in the language classroom gives students both authentic reading material and an authentic purpose for reading.
  • Reading for cultural knowledge and awareness: Reading everyday materials that are designed for native speakers can give students insight into the lifestyles and worldviews of the people whose language they are studying. When students have access to newspapers, magazines, and Web sites, they are exposed to culture in all its variety, and monolithic cultural stereotypes begin to break down.

When reading to learn, students need to follow four basic steps:

  1. Figure out the purpose for reading. Activate background knowledge of the topic in order to predict or anticipate content and identify appropriate reading strategies.
  2. Attend to the parts of the text that are relevant to the identified purpose and ignore the rest. This selectivity enables students to focus on specific items in the input and reduces the amount of information they have to hold in short-term memory.
  3. Select strategies that are appropriate to the reading task and use them flexibly and interactively. Students’ comprehension improves and their confidence increases when they use top-down and bottom-up skills simultaneously to construct meaning.
  4. Check comprehension while reading and when the reading task is completed. Monitoring comprehension helps students detect inconsistencies and comprehension failures, helping them learn to use alternate strategies.