reading skill

Definition, Purposes, and Strategies of Reading

Definition of Reading

Urquhart & Weir (1988, p.22) define reading as a process of receiving and interpreting information encoded in language form via the medium of print. Reading, in broad terms, can be basically understood as an activity involving the perception of a written text to comprehend its content (Schmidt, Rozendal, & Greenman, 2002).

Grabe (2009, p.5) underlines reading as a part of academic life that is expected to provide unlimited knowledge from informational written materials, including assignments or tasks necessary for the achievement of academic success.

Reading comprehension involves abilities to recognize words rapidly and efficiently, develop and use a very large recognition vocabulary, process sentences in order to build comprehension, and engage a range of strategic processes and underlying cognitive skills (e.g., setting goals, changing goals flexibly, monitoring comprehension), interpret meaning in relation to background knowledge, interpret and evaluate texts in line with reader goals and purposes, and process texts fluently over an extended period of time (Grabe, 2014, p.8).

Purposes of Reading

Reading is an activity with a purpose. A person may read in order to gain information or verify existing knowledge. A person may also read for enjoyment, or to enhance knowledge of the language being read.

Reading for instruction/learning

Students look for information needed for their studies or necessary to be used as a tool to solve a problem. Reading for learning or instruction also involves the skills of thinking critically. Critical thinking skills, according to Facione (2000, p.61), have to do with the ability to think reflectively about situations in search of possible solutions. In reading, these skills are used to evaluate, select, synthesize, and integrate information into the knowledge the reader is already familiar with.

Reading for information

Students are required not only to read for information they are expected to have in order to deal with their course of study but also they can read other related information to enlarge their knowledge background which is an important support to help them understand the world around them.

According to Grabe (2009, p.8), when we read for information, it involves both the skills of skimming and scanning that allow us to search for information efficiently. These skills can be applied either combined or isolated in relation to each other, depending on the demand or relevance of the reading content to the reader.

4 Reading Techniques and Strategies

Reading strategies are specific procedures that help readers look at printed words and interpret their meaning. There are several effective reading strategies designed to boost readers’ understanding of the written word:

1. Skimming

Skimming is a quick reading strategy of glancing through a text to find its general idea. In skim reading, we quickly take the main idea of the content we read, without absorbing or looking at every word in the text. That is, we get the gist of what is written.

According to Reading & Study Skills Lab, skim reading is a more text-oriented form of surveying that involves recognizing the parts of a text with the most important information such as titles, subtitles, introduction, headings, subheadings, words in special print, visuals, first and last paragraphs, conclusion, that often provide valuable background, summarizing, or concluding information.

Examples of reading skimming activities:

  • To see what is in the news on a website or on a paper;
  • To look through a text to decide whether you want to read it or not;
  • To look through the television guide/program schedule to plan your evening;
  • To see through a catalogue to choose an offer;
  • To go through the options after searching something on Google.

2. Scanning

Scanning is an efficient technique used to find a particular piece of information rather than a general impression, without having the need to understand the rest of the text. This technique involves looking down and around a page quickly and efficiently searching for specific information we need.

It is useful for finding a specific name, date, statistical number, fact, or detail without reading the whole text. During scan reading, we should use peripheral vision instead of focusing only on the logical sequence of the text.

For example, if you want to know the meaning of the word ‘beauty’ in the dictionary, you will first search for the letter B, then E, and then A; by then you will probably have gotten the name. This search process is called scanning. 

Examples of reading scanning activities:

  • To search for a word in a dictionary or index;
  • To find a phone number or an address in a directory;
  • To check the time schedule of a program in an agenda;
  • To check the price of a specific item in a catalogue;
  • To know particular information from a text;

3. Extensive reading

Reading extensively means reading in quantity, principally in works of literature. In societies where extensive reading is encouraged, people tend to gain the culture of reading as much as they can for pleasure in their first or official language in which reading materials are accessible in large quantities with regular frequency. These materials are novels, newspapers, and magazines.

According to Richards (1998, p.8), reading research reveals that many other terms like abundant reading, free reading, wide reading, and supplementary reading, have been used to refer to extensive reading, mainly in foreign language pedagogy, to mean reading rapidly in quantity for pleasure. In this kind of reading, the reader’s attention is more centred on the content rather than the language of the text.

Extensive reading as Richards, Platt & Platt (1992, p.133) explains, is a kind of reading expected to help foreign language learners to develop a liking for reading in the target language and consequently expand their language knowledge.

Contrary to reading for academic purposes, it does not seem to meet students’ needs in content areas, since the intention is not primarily to expand the knowledge of the target language but the knowledge of a specific area. This being so, devoting careful attention to intensive reading would be more significant to the research carried out in our particular context.

4. Intensive reading

In academic contexts, reading intensively is the greatest requisite for success. Richards & Schmidt (2002, p.194) refer to it as a kind of reading done slowly and demanding a higher level of understanding of information.

Bogoya González (2011, p.35) also says it is a language teaching strategy to make students develop their reading comprehension ability and understanding of concepts. Academic intensive reading implies recognizing, deciphering, and constructing meaning from texts so as to make students capable of giving descriptions, explanations, and clear illustrations of concepts.

References and Recommended Reading

  • Bogoya González, A. P. (2011). Fostering fifth graders’ reading comprehension through the use of intensive reading in physical science. Colombian Applied Linguistics Journal, 13(1), 39-57.
  • Faccione, P., Faccione, N., & Giancarlo, C. (2000). The disposition toward critical thinking: Its character, measurement, and relationship to critical thinking skill. Informal Logic, 20(1), 61-84.
  • Grabe, W. (2009). Reading in a Second Language: Moving from Theory to Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Grabe, W. (2014). Key issues in L2 reading development. In Proceedings of the 4th CELC Symposium for English Language Teachers-Selected Papers (pp. 8-18).
  • Richard, J. C., Platt, J., & Platt, H. (1992). Dictionary of language teaching & applied linguistics. Essex: Longman.
  • Richards, J.C. and R. Schmidt. 2002. Dictionary of Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics (3rd Edition). Essex: Longman.
  • Schmidt, R. J., Rozendal, M. S., & Greenman, G. G. (2002). Reading instruction in the inclusion classroom: Research-based practices. Remedial and Special Education, 23(3), 130-140.
  • Urquhart, S. and Weir, C. (1998). Reading in a Second Language: Process, Product and Practice. London: Longman.
Tenry Colle
Tenry Colle

Hi! My name is A. Tenry Lawangen Aspat Colle. I am a motivated and resourceful English educator. In addition, as the owner of @rymari.translation17 has shaped me to be a punctual and dependable translator of Indonesian to English and vice versa.

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