Reading Skills Guide

Reading Skills Guide

Do you want to improve your reading skills and become a better reader? Many English learners have this goal in mind. This guide to reading can help you.

In this guide you will learn about:

You can also look below at the reading glossary for any words about reading that you don't understand.

Reading is the third of the four language skills. It is called a "receptive" skill because when we read we receive language coming in:
  1. listening (← in)
  2. speaking (out →)
  3. reading (← in)
  4. writing (out →)

Why Read?

You probably know that even in your own language reading is regarded as important because it can be entertaining and educational, can open up new worlds and enrich your life, and can improve hand-eye co-ordination and enhance social skills.

But for learning a foreign language, in this case English, reading in that language has additional important benefits that can help you learn the language faster and more completely.

Reading is an essential skill for language learners. When your reading skills improve, your listening, speaking and writing skills improve too. Here are some of the specific reasons why English learners are encouraged to read in English:

If you want to improve your English, learn to love reading in English. The best readers often get the best grades, jobs and opportunities.

What to Read

Are you overwhelmed by the reading materials that are available? Without spending a penny, you can read printed texts (books, magazines, newspapers at the library), online materials (websites and blogs), and ebooks (on your mobile devices).

Think about what you like to read in your native language. Can you find these written materials in English?

There are two important things in deciding what to read:
  1. It should interest you, so that the reading is fun and not boring.
  2. It should be at a level that is not too difficult for you.

Here are some types of reading material to try:

10 Reading Tips

  1. Read at a level slightly lower than what you understand. You should not have to look up a lot of words. It's okay to look up a few words.
  2. Make reading a ritual. Choose a time and place to read every day or week. Commit to this reading time as if it were a job.
  3. Read what interests you.
  4. Understand what you'll be tested on. If you're working on your reading skills for a particular test, make sure to learn about the test. There may be specific formats such as advertisements that you'll have to read in the test.
  5. Find free reading materialsProject Gutenberg is an excellent source, but be careful with public domain books that are written in outdated English. Some words and expressions are no longer in use.
  6. Visualize what you are reading. Some people try to imagine they are reading a movie or a how-to video.
  7. Listen and read. Find podcasts or videos that have transcripts and read along silently. You can also read out loud with the recording.
  8. Relate what you read to your own life. How does the reading apply to you?
  9. Think about the author or journalist.  How would the reading differ if you were the author?
  10. Check your eyesight. If you haven't had your eyesight checked in the last few years, make an appointment.

Reading Strategies

Here are some strategies for improving your comprehension skills.

Reading Levels

It is important to read texts that are at the right level for you - not too easy, not too difficult.

You need to know what your personal reading level is. (Note that your reading level may not be the same as your overall level in English. For example, your reading level is normally higher than your writing level, and higher than your overall level.)

Ask your teacher to help you determine your reading level. If you don’t have a teacher, try reading a few texts from different levels. If you have to look up a lot of words in a dictionary, the text is too difficult for you. If you don't have to look up any words, the text is too easy for you. Try something at a lower or higher level. A teacher, librarian or bookstore clerk can help you find something easier or more difficult.

You can also try our reading test to help determine your reading level.

Designate a place and time for reading every day. Your reading level will increase with time.

What Are Graded Readers?
Graded readers (also sometimes called "readers") are books that have been written for English learners at a specific level. Different publishers may use different ways of describing level, but essentially they range from Beginner to Advanced. The language in graded readers is graded by vocabulary and grammatical structure. Beginner graded readers typically use only easy grammatical forms (e.g. basic tenses) and a limited number of words (e.g. 300 headwords). Advanced graded readers may use the full range of grammatical structures and many more words (e.g. 3,000 headwords). Most publishers of English language learning materials publish a range of graded readers on a variety of subjects covering fiction and non-fiction.

Reading Tests

If you are taking a standardized English test or attending English language classes, you will probably be tested on your reading skills. Here are some things that you may be asked to do in a reading test or assignment:

Did you know you can increase your score by understanding the format of the reading and questions on a standardized test? Stress stems from not knowing what to expect. Learn as much as you can about the types of questions and the rules for the test before you take it. This will help you to feel more relaxed on test day. Also, be sure to note how long you will have to read and answer the questions. Do some timed reading practice before test day.

Reading Categories

Read what interests you. Here are some categories that can help you find what you are looking for in a library, bookstore or online search. Other categories such as poetry and drama may also interest you.


Writing that describes imaginary events and people (such as short stories and novels):


Writing about facts, real events and real people (such as history or biography):

Reading terms

A glossary of words and terms that we use to talk about reading

autobiography (noun): story of a person's life written by that same person
brochure (noun): booklet or small magazine with information and images about a product, place or service
comprehension (noun): action of understanding what you are reading; ability to understand what you are reading
dialogue (noun): conversation between two or more people that is written in a text
ebook (noun): electronic book; book that you can download and read on a computer or mobile device
fiction (noun): writing that is about imaginary events and people
genre (noun): category based on content, style or form
gist (noun): central idea of a text; the essence of a text
grade (noun): mark or percentage that indicates the quality of your work (test, assignment etc)
graded readers (noun): books written at different levels specially for English learners
heading (noun): title of a section or division in a text, such as a chapter heading
headword (noun): (in a dictionary) first and main word of each entry; the word that is being defined (for example, dog is a headword but the plural dogs is not a headword; and run is a headword but the past tense ran is not a headword)
inference (noun): conclusion that one comes to based on logic and information provided
infographic (noun): visual representation of text or information, with minimal text used
keyword (noun): important word in a text; word that holds the "key" to meaning
literature (noun): written materials, especially when considered to be of great artistic merit
memoir (noun): personal account of an aspect of one's life, written from one's own memory
non-fiction (noun): writing that is about facts, real events and real people
paragraph (noun): distinct section of a text, containing one main idea or scene, and usually indicated by a new line
paraphrase (verb): to rewrite (or describe) a text in one's own words
proverb (noun): short saying about a general truth or belief
read aloud | read out loud (verb): to read audibly, not silently, so that other people, if present, could hear
reading level (noun): grade that defines one's reading ability (levels may be shown, for example, as: beginner to advanced; low to high; numerically 1 to 5)
scan (verb): to read a text quickly looking for specific details
skill (noun): ability to do something well (the four main skills that we need in language are listening, speaking, reading and writing)
skim (verb): to read a text quickly to get a general idea or overview
skip (verb): to pass a word or section (and possibly go back later)
subtitle (noun): additional, more detailed heading that comes under a main heading
summary (noun): brief account of the main points of a text
text (noun): written work; the written words that you read
transcript (noun): written version of spoken words (for example, transcript of a film or podcast)