ALMS Reading Guide
C. Reading rate
D. Aspects of the text
E. Reading for learning
F. Reading Critically
H. Tips for reading a novel
A. Improving reading
This guide is intended to help you to improve your skills in reading. It tells you a little about the strategies you can use to help you to become a more effective reader of English and suggests some reading activities. There are examples of how you can pick out aspects of the text to help you, and how you can read for content in different ways.
You could start by thinking about your own strategies when you read, and deciding on your aims and objectives, such as increasing reading speed or understanding an exam text or even just pleasure. Do this every time you are reading for ALMS. Try to reflect during and after your work on what you are doing, what your problems are and what you have achieved.
Choose your material carefully! If your aim is to develop your vocabulary, take something with relevant subject matter and think about the language before you start. If you are looking to lower your anxiety about reading in English, you could try reading a novel (see guide for reading novels below) or short story. When you are reading for content, try not to worry too much about the language (e.g., difficult words).
Ideally, you as a reader are motivated to read and have a real reading purpose (for an exam, for pleasure). The purpose determines the strategies you use. Whatever the text, you have expectations of the content, which may be based on the title (for the content), the author (given your previous knowledge), the source, diagrams and pictures.
You probably read a newspaper and a course book in different ways. Before you begin reading a course book, for example, you could do some previewing (or surveying): the title, the blurb, the table of contents, the index, illustrations, prefaces, introductions, bibliographies and acknowledgements all give you clues as to what you will find in the text.
Our expectations about the text enable us to make predictions, which in turn help us to interpret the meaning. Try asking yourself pre-reading questions: What do you already know about this subject? What do you not quite understand about this subject? What vocabulary can you expect?
Skimming (reading quickly to get the main idea) and scanning (looking for specific pieces of information) are useful strategies, particularly if you are used to reading everything in a foreign language word by word. Both enable you to quickly go through the text without paying attention to all parts of it. You will then be able to decide if there is a reason for a more careful reading. This intensive reading involves reading for detail and understanding the text at all levels, and the writer’s purpose.
Extensive reading means using any or all of these strategies depending on your interests and needs.
C. Reading rate
Faster reading often increases the comprehension level, and is more efficient. Try increasing your reading rate by timing yourself when you read. Passages of between 500 and 1000 words are well suited for this purpose. You might then ask yourself what the is text about in order to check your understanding. You should notice an increase in your reading rate over time. There are a number of websites and apps that can help you improve your reading speed.
D. Aspects of the text
You cannot read meaningfully unless you know the meaning of words. However, it is often unnecessary to know all the words in a text in order to understand the main points. An essential reading skill is the ability to infer or deduce the meaning of words from their place and function in the sentence, or from the context. It is often enough to guess the general meaning (e.g., negative or positive). Of course, if you cannot understand a key phrase or sentence, it is then necessary to use a dictionary.
There are several things to look at to help you guess the meaning of a word: what word class is it (i.e. is it a noun or a verb?; what words go with it?; is it a negative or positive word?; what about the immediate and wide contexts?; is it similar to a word you know in another language? Additionally, it will help you if you know something about the prefixes and suffixes used in English. This, combined with your knowledge about inference, will enable you to deal more successfully with unknown words. For example:
To further aid your understanding, be aware that certain words and phrases called signposts or linking words, also signal the meaning of a text. The writer uses them to organize the text and to make his or her points clear. Signposts may be used in the following way:
– for listing: firstly, in the first place, secondly, thirdly; my next point is, last, finally, in the end
– for cause and effect: so, therefore, because, as, since, thus
– for giving examples: for instance, for example, let’s take…; an example / instance of this is …
– for relationships of contrast or comparison: but, nevertheless, (and) yet, although, however, on the one hand / on the other hand
– for summing the message up: to summarise, in other words, it amounts to this, if I can just sum up
– for relationships of time: then, next, after that, previously, while, when
– for emphasis: especially, particularly, in particular, essentially, it is worth noting, I would like to direct your attention to
– for re-phrasing or introducing a definition: in other words, that is to say, let me put it this way, to put it another way
– for expressing a condition: if, in case, unless, assuming that supposing that, provided that.
E. Reading for learning
It is a good idea to read a text twice: however, just reading a text repeatedly will not help you to learn. So whenever possible, play with your text as much as you can. Try one or more of the following:
– underline important terms and ideas in the text, and then quiz yourself on these items
– write notes in the margins as reminders of the main points and key ideas
– relate what you read to what you already know and ask questions about these relationships
– write short paraphrase statements of the key ideas in the margin (use your own words)
– share your problems with your fellow students: talk about your interpretations, try to find ways of explaining words and ideas
– try the SQ3R technique if you are fond of techniques and systematic ways of doing things: skim, question, read, recall, review (five phases for getting the meaning out of the text gradually). This technique uses many of the ideas given above, and also includes post-reading activities such as recalling and going back over the main points. Review the text by skimming it and the notes you made when you read it
– find various sources and texts that deal with the same topic, and read them in order to memorize the details and vocabulary items. If you are reading an original work, try to get hold of someone else’s interpretation of it. Look for relevant texts in your native language, or more simple material in English
– develop your mind-mapping techniques, either as a pre-reading, sensitising exercise, or as a post-reading activity for reviewing the main points, memorizing vocabulary or producing a summary
– combine reading and writing by summarising the text (in Finnish or English).
Once you have chosen a text to read (using your skimming skills), you could proceed by just reading the first sentences of each paragraph. This will often be enough to give you an idea of the content as a whole, because English writers tend to use a paragraph structure in which the first sentence is the topic sentence, or it is the topic introducer and the second sentence is the topic sentence. You may then not have to read all of the text. It is worth keeping in mind that not all texts are organized in this way.
F. Reading Critically
When you read a text for academic purposes, you are expected to do so in a critical manner. This means that you need to be able to question what is in the text, not just say what it is about. To do this questioning, you need to, of course, understand the text and to relate it to what you already know about the subject. Consider what arguments are used in the text (how clear, logical and well supported), what information is used (what has and hasn’t been selected, and how was it selected), what examples are used (how relevant are they and what role do they play), and finally, how you can make the text personally relevant for you (what questions does this text raise in my mind and how does it relate to what I know and am studying).
Regularly keep track of your personal responses and reflections on the texts that you read. Use the following questions to help you, but you don’t have to answer every question every time.
- How has what I have read in this text helped my understanding of the topic?
- Are there cultural aspects to the text that affect the understanding of the text?
- Can I make predictions using this text?
- Have I learnt useful information or language from the text?
- What can I take from this text in regard to content/organization/structure/language that will help my own writing and speaking?
- What areas of language have I learnt?
- How do I react personally to this text?
- What other reading does this lead me to?
H. Tips for reading a novel
Reading a novel can be a very motivating experience, but it is also good for developing your language skills and understanding language in context; in particular reading, grammar and vocabulary can be improved. If grammar or vocabulary are included in your language goals, perhaps you should consider joining the grammar and/or vocabulary showers.
Starting can be hard, as reading some 300 pages can seem scary. To overcome this fear, you need to get into the book quickly and become interested in what is going on.
These are suggestions to help you get the most of your reading experience, but, as with any suggestion, you are the judge of what is most useful for you.
- Of interest – Most Important
- Related to what you study? (Law students perhaps read a detective novel, etc.)
- Be careful of length – if it is too long it can be too frightening
- Old classics may have difficult and unusual vocabulary
- You should read rather quickly so that you understand the main idea of the story
- You do not need to know every word!
- Skip the words you do not know
- If you want, underline the words or structures you don’t know and move on
- Set a concrete goal, like reading 10 pages or finishing a chapter
Language Learning – after reaching your goal
- Did you understand what your read – think or write about what happened
- Go back and check your understanding
- Can you roughly guess what a word means?
- Is the word positive or negative?
- If the word is a descriptive adjective, for example, perhaps you don’t need to know what it means
- If not, see if these ideas help:
- Say the word out loud and vary how you say it
- Is the word positive or negative, or something else?
- What type of word is it? A noun, verb, adjective or adverb?
- Is the word made up of smaller parts that you know?
- Is the word similar to a word you know in another language?
- Now use a monolingual dictionary to get the meaning more precisely.
- Check the context of the word. Is it used in a phrase or with specific other words?
- How are you going to learn the words/phrases/expressions?
- How are you going to relate your reading/learning/progress to you counsellor?
- Is there some way that you assess what you have learnt/ or how much progress you’ve made?
Created by: Kaija Ervola, Leena Karlsson, Felecity Kjisik, Joan Nordlund. Dec 2003
Updated by: Michele Simeon and Kirby Vincent, August 2017; Gráinne and SvB on 18 August 2022