Reading Skills Guide
Do you want to 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:
- reading and why it matters
- reading materials for English language learners
- typical tasks found in English-language reading tests
- general reading tips to become a stronger reader
- where you can find reading materials
- reading strategies for better comprehension
- common reading categories to choose from
You can also look below at the reading glossary for any words about reading that you don't understand.
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:
- The constant repetition of words and patterns in reading helps you learn and remember vocabulary and grammar structures.
- Reading helps you become familiar with the rhythm of English. Over time it will start to feel natural and you will notice when a sentence or phrase doesn't seem right.
- Unlike conversation, reading is something you can do on your own.
- Reading is not expensive, often free.
- Good reading skills can improve your other language skills. You need to learn to read before you can write.
- Reading is the best way to learn and remember the proper spelling of words.
- Listening as you read aloud can help you improve your pronunciation skills.
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?
- It should interest you, so that the reading is fun and not boring.
- It should be at a level that is not too difficult for you.
Here are some types of reading material to try:
- books (including children's books and graded readers)
- online news articles (try EC's easy news)
- online blogs about topics that interest you (search for "top 10 blog" lists by topic)
- letters (personal and commercial)
- transcripts (of some online videos) and sub-titles on films
- short stories (try these on EnglishClub)
- cartoons and jokes
- recipes for cooking
- advertisements and brochures
10 Reading Tips
- 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.
- 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.
- Read what interests you.
- 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.
- Find free reading materials. Project 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.
- Visualize what you are reading. Some people try to imagine they are reading a movie or a how-to video.
- Listen and read. Find podcasts or videos that have transcripts and read along silently. You can also read out loud with the recording.
- Relate what you read to your own life. How does the reading apply to you?
- Think about the author or journalist. How would the reading differ if you were the author?
- Check your eyesight. If you haven't had your eyesight checked in the last few years, make an appointment.
Here are some strategies for improving your comprehension skills.
- Skim: read for the brief idea or overview.
- Scan: read for specific details or a specific reason.
- KWL: determine what you Know about the topic, what you Want to know, and what you Learned.
- Skip: if you don't understand a word or section, keep reading ahead. Come back to the section or word again and try to figure out the meaning. Use a dictionary if necessary.
- Look for headings, subtitles and keywords.
- Read out loud: children read out loud when they first start reading. You can too. Get comfortable hearing your English voice.
- Create timelines or charts: reorganize what you read in a different format.
- Rewrite in a different tense.
- Rewrite in a different format: for example, rewrite an article in letter or list form.
- Illustrate: if you think you're a visual learner, sketch images or an infographic related to what you read.
- Write the questions: as you read, think about which questions you might find on a test or quiz. Write them down and answer them, or quiz a friend.
- Summarize or retell: you can do this by writing a letter to a friend, writing a blog post, making a web cam video, or just starting a conversation on this topic.
- Learn affixes: knowing prefixes and suffixes will increase your word recognition.
- Keep a vocabulary journal.
- Get a vocabulary partner.
- Use a pen or ruler: some people find it is easier to read with a pacer. A pen, ruler or fingertip can help you keep your place and prevent your eyes from wandering off. This may not be suitable if you are reading on a computer or mobile device. Adjust the screen to a larger size if necessary.
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.
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 (eg basic tenses) and a limited number of words (eg 300 headwords). Advanced graded readers may use the full range of grammatical structures and many more words (eg 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.
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:
- Find the gist or main idea. Write (or say) one sentence that explains what the reading is about.
- Summarize. Describe a few of the main points that are presented.
- Locate details. Find specific information that is provided in a piece of text.
- Understand inferences. Make assumptions based on information you are given in a text. You may be asked to make inferences about the author.
- Make predictions. Guess what a reading will be about. Guess what will happen next.
- Identify genre and style. Name the type or category of writing that you read.
- Sort information. Organize details in a systematic or chart form, such as creating a chronological timeline or labeling a map.
- Match information. For example, match dialogue to a character.
- Paraphrase. Rewrite the text in your own words.
- Identify parts of speech.
- Compare and Contrast.
- Identify key words.
- Match paragraphs to headings.
- Write an opinion.
- Draw conclusions.
- Write comprehension questions.
- Decide whether something is True, False or Not Mentioned in a text.
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):
- crime and mystery
- literary fiction
- popular fiction
- science fiction
- short stories
- women's fiction
- young adult fiction
Writing about facts, real events and real people (such as history or biography):
- arts and crafts
- how to
This glossary lists words and terms that we use on these pages 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)