Teaching reading strategies
It is of paramount importance that teachers help learners develop reading strategies and skills so that they can cope with any type of texts. Teaching reading is not testing reading. It is not helpful to assign a text for students to read and answer the comprehension questions. What they really need is training them to be able to read any type of texts using specific strategies. The aim is that they become skilled fluent readers.
Reading skills VS reading strategies
There are fundamental differences between reading strategies and reading skills.
“Reading strategies are deliberate, goal-directed attempts to control and modify the reader’s efforts to decode text, understand words, and construct meanings of text. Reading skills are automatic actions that result in decoding and comprehension with speed, efficiency, and fluency and usually occur without awareness of the components or control involved.”
Afflerbach et al. (2008)
A skill is an unconscious ability or proficiency. It works without the reader’s intentional control and operates automatically. Strategies, on the other hand, are conscious plans or deliberately chosen tactics that help readers solve a reading problem. Being aware of the processes involved in the reading task means that readers select an intended objective, the means to attain that objectives and the processes used to achieve it. To use a metaphor, it is helpful to see the skills as the target and the strategies as the journey or the process towards that target.
As mentioned above, instead of focusing on testing SS comprehension, as teachers, we should first and foremost teach learners the skills and strategies they need to tackle different types of texts. Here are some examples of reading strategies:
Using information or elements from a passage (e.g. title, headings, pictures, diagrams, words in bold type,…) and personal knowledge to anticipate what the text is about.
Reading a text quickly to get its general idea (i.e. to get the gist) of the content.
Reading a text quickly to locate a specific fact or piece of information. This may be a date, a name or a figure… This strategy is also referred to as reading for specific details
Previewing or surveying consists of having an idea about the content and goals of a reading text before starting to read. To do so, readers look at the title, sub-titles, a picture or read the first sentence of each paragraph, …
Generating questions about the text and the writer’s intentions. This helps learners get engaged actively with a text instead of reading it passively.
Readers relate the content of the passage to self, to other texts or to the world. Good readers take advantage of the connections they make between the current passage with:
- Their personal experiences (text-to-self),
- The content from other texts (text-to-text),
- Their knowledge about the world (text-to-world).
Making connections enhance deeper insight and understanding.
Making meaning of the text by reading between the lines and using personal knowledge. The aim is to construct meaning beyond what is literally expressed. By inferring, readers are adding information that is not explicitly stated.
Summarizing consists of giving a brief statement of a text (using one’s own words) by identifying the most important points. This strategy helps learners integrate the main ideas in a meaningful way.
Using background knowledge
Using what is already known to better understand something new. By activating prior knowledge, readers try to make sense out of what they read by seeing how it fits with what they already know.
Identifying the antecedents of some words in a text.
Relying on memory to retrieve a specific piece of information or a general idea from a text/ retelling the content of a text without going back to it
Critically reflecting on and judging the author’s purpose, attitude, opinion, etc.
Afflerbach, P., Pearson, P., & Paris S. G. (2008). Clarifying differences between reading skills and reading strategies. The Reading Teacher, 61(5), 364-373.