Getting to Grips with Reading Skills


Reading is a great way to broaden students’ passive knowledge of the language and this in turn increases their active use. But how should we use reading skills in the classroom to ensure students are getting the most out of what they’re reading? Read on for a Q & A on reading skills…

How can we get students interested in a text before they even start reading?

By showing visuals, headlines or discussing questions before learners start looking at the text, we can automatically create interest in the text they are going to read. Asking students to predict what they think the text might be about or might include, we give them a reason to read ie to check whether they were right!

Should I get my students to read out loud in class?

In one word, NO! Reading out loud does not help students with reading skills. It is very difficult to understand the meaning of what we are reading when reading out loud and you can be fairly sure the majority of the other students have switched off. Also, how does this make a shy or a dyslexic student feel in front of the rest of the class?  What if the person reading out loud has a strong accent, will the others understand him/her?

What can I do other than give my students a text and ask them comprehension questions on it?

By creating an information gap, we can make reading texts more interesting and more communicative. A split reading, for example, does just that. Half the class reads half the text and the rest read the remaining half. After doing some work on understanding their text, the teacher can match two students together who have read different texts and they have a genuine reason to listen/talk to each other.


What should I do if the text has a lot of new, difficult words for my learners?

First of all, ask yourself if this text is suitable, level-wise. Having said that, we tend to grade the task rather than the text. That means you can use a challenging text with lower-level students, but make sure the questions they have to answer are suited to their level.

Secondly, you can pre-teach some lexical items before the students start reading the text. This does not mean that you need to teach every word you think your students don’t know, but rather those words they need in order to be able to answer the questions.

Why do learners need to practise different sub-skills?

In our daily lives, we read different texts very differently. When was the last time you read a train timetable from top to bottom? Instead, we scan the timetable to find out when the train is leaving at about the time we want. When we are looking through the newspaper, we might skim the first part of an article to see if it is something we are interested in reading in more detail. These are two examples of sub-skills and what we do in the classroom should mirror what we do in real life. Students should be encouraged to transfer these skills from their own language (L1) to reading in a foreign language (L2) rather than reading every text for detail ie intensively.

What can we recommend students read outside the classroom?

Anything and everything except …

Flickrs’ The Commons

children’s books!

We think they would be easier to read but the language used in a lot of children’s books is actually quite complex. Much more suitable are graded readers, magazines designed for language learners, short stories or novels, maybe one that they have already read in their L1. The internet is, of course, also a great source and sites such as the BBC and the British Council have pages suitable for language learners.

Ask yourself the following: what kind of reading sub-skills are students practising here. The choice is skimming, scanning, reading for detail or reading for pleasure. Post your answers below and we’ll let you know if you’re right!

  1. Reading Harry Potter
  2. Looking online to see what time the film is on at the cinema.
  3. Looking through the football results to see who won.
  4. Reading the manual for your new oven to see how it works.
  5. Reading a letter from the bank.




Author: Amanda Momeni

A CELTA tutor, English language tutor and co-author of The Ultimate Guide to CELTA

11 thoughts on “Getting to Grips with Reading Skills”

  1. Hi Amanda, just saw the exercise above and thought I’d give it a try (we did do some practise on this last week and I hope it will help me here 😉
    1. Harry Potter = Reading for pleasure
    2. Time of film at cinema = Scanning
    3. Looking for football results to see who won = Scanning
    4. Reading the manual for the oven = Reading for detail
    5. Reading a text from the bank = Skimming

    Liked by 1 person

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