Published 3rd August 2017

Sometimes we read for pleasure (when we have the time!), sometimes we read for a specific purpose (to study for an exam), and other times we read to find out information (what time is the next train?). When we read these different text types, because we are reading for different purposes, so we read using different strategies.

Reading is a receptive skill, which means that the duty is on the reader to construct meaning from the reading text. We make use of different reading strategies in order to make this process as efficient and easy as possible.

The first skill we can use is skimming. Skimming is when we read a text very quickly to find out the general idea behind it, often making use of headlines or titles and pictures when we do this. This is what we do when we read a newspaper. We don’t read every article in detail but rather we glance at each article briefly to decide whether or not we want to continue reading it.

In contrast, if we need to find out specific information, we’ll scan the text. Scanning is when we read a text quickly in order to find keywords or phrases which will show us where the relevant text is. When we have found where the information is that we need, we read in detail to get the whole picture. This is what we do when we want to find out at which cinema a certain film is playing, or exactly what someone said.

Because these are the strategies we use naturally in reading, it is necessary to train our learners to adopt the same strategies when they read an English text. Even though it may seem unnatural to focus on these strategies rather than spending time reading the text, it is necessary to be explicit about using these strategies so that they will become unconscious skills for the learners.

Once our learners become skilled in reading and reading becomes easier and more enjoyable, hopefully they will take this enjoyment out of the classroom and spend time reading English texts on their own. This is the ideal situation: just as reading is known to improve your language skills and increase your vocabulary in your own language, the same is true for reading in a foreign language. Because we have a limited time in our EFL lessons, we must try encourage our learners to read texts for themselves. Hopefully soon they’ll be reading Pride and Prejudice or War and Peace!