Articles for Teachers

Reading Strategies for ESL/EFL Students
By:John Erskin <>

In my last article I talked about the importance of reading as a method of improving English fluency. In this article, I want to continue along that line of thought by giving some specific strategies that have helped my students and will help yours, too.

These reading strategies will work both in and out of the classroom, but are particularly useful in the classroom. If learned and applied daily, these reading strategies will help your students improve both their reading comprehension and test scores. So let's begin.

NOTE: For the rest of this article I will use the second person pronoun 'you' rather than the possessive adjective 'their' as a matter if convenience and because, if applied these strategies will help anyone who wishes to improve their English.

Strategy 1: Ignore words that are unimportant.

When reading, you may often come upon a word or phrase that you don't understand. Your first impulse may be to look up the word in your dictionary. Before resorting to a dictionary, though, you should first determine whether the word you don't know is important. If it isn't, then ignore it. Consider the following sentence.

The farvenugen truck was parked in front of the house.

What does the word farvennugen mean? You probably don't know, right? Now ask yourself, Is the word farvennugen important in understanding the sentence? No, not really. We can tell that farvennugen is being used as an adjective, but it isn't important to the meaning of the sentence. The point of the sentence is where the truck was parked, not what kind of truck it is, so, we can ignore that word and still understand the sentence.

Strategy 2: Use context to guess the meaning.

If you follow Strategy 1, and you determine that the word you don't know IS important, then before using a dictionary, try to guess the meaning of the word from the context. Context refers to the words and phrases surrounding the word that you don't understand. Once you think you have guessed the correct meaning, then look up the word in your dictionary to insure you have made a correct guess. Then practice using the word in different contexts. This will help you increase your understanding of the word, which in turn will help you increase your vocabulary.

Being able to guess the meaning of words from their context is a skill that is particularly helpful when you come across idioms. For example, in the sentence

Jimmy lost track of time and was late for class,

the phrase lost track of time is an idiom that means to forget about the time. If you didn't know the meaning of this idiom and you looked up each word in the dictionary, you still would not understand the sentence.

Strategy 3: Scan for specific information.

Scanning is a skill that requires that you read quickly while looking for specific information. To scan a reading text, you should start at the top of the page and then move your eyes quickly toward the bottom. Generally, scanning is a technique that is helpful when you are looking for the answer to a known question. This is especially helpful when taking a test.

Strategy 4: Skim for general information.

Like scanning, skimming requires you to read quickly. When you skim a text, though, you are not looking for specific information, but rather, you are trying to get the main idea or point of the text you are reading. When skimming a reading selection, start with the title of the text, then read the topic sentence of each paragraph. Skimming is a skill that is especially suited for doing research. By skimming a few pages of a reference book or novel, you can generally tell if the book or novel will be useful for your research.

Strategy 5: Read in units or chunks of words.

When we see sentences written on paper, we see words that are separated by spaces. What we hear when we speak, though, are not words but sounds. Words are separated by spaces on paper for convenience. Reading is similar to speaking because people who are proficient readers read sentences in units of words rather than one word at a time. This skill takes practice, but if mastered is well worth the effort.

The reading strategies in this article seem simple, but they are actually difficult for some readers to master. Teachers need to be able to guide their students in their efforts to master these skills. However; in order to help your students master these reading strategies, teachers first must have a firm grasp on how to use each strategy effectively. This requires time and effort, but if you are truly interested in your students achievement, you will put in the time required to learn and apply the reading strategies outlined in this article.

This article was submitted by John Erskin. John is living in South Korea where he has been teaching English as a foreign language for over 12 years. He also maintains two websites dedicated to ESL/EFL: John's ESL Community, and The Tower of English

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