Learning by reading – a guide for readers

Reading is not just limited to classrooms. In today’s society, we all are expected to read everywhere and most of the time. Look around, you are likely to see something waiting to be read. That something could be your textbook, newspaper, magazine, letter, sign, text message, or an email. As a student, reading for class assignments probably demands more attention than reading a road sign.

Like writing, developing reading skills that work for you require practice. This is precisely what this post will do – help you get started on improving your reading skills.

As a student, you know you are not going to be graded on how well you read a road sign but actually the class reading material. In most cases, your reading material will just be your textbook. But don’t forget your own notes, and any handouts given out by your instructor or teacher. To prepare yourself for reading make sure you:

  • Find a quite study area or room. Once you get enough practice reading, you may be able to read and concentrate in not-so-quire areas.
  • Choose a place that has lighting suited for reading. A darker room may make you sleepy!
  • Are prepared to take notes or at least highlight or underline material.
  • Keep a dictionary handy in case you have to look up a word or two.

If you were asked to find the material for reading, make sure what you select is:

  • Really what you need
  • Up-to-date
  • Relevant (all or some) to your assignment
  • Written for your reading level
Table 1 lists what you will find in a book. Take a look at these parts next time you touch a book!
Part Description
Front cover Provides information such as book title, the author(s), and edition number.
Inside cover Information on the author
Preface, introduction or forward This gives some idea about why the book was written and information on how to get most out of the book.
Publication details This section is great for referencing. It includes information such the publication date, location and the publisher.
Contents This section serves to tell you what topics are covered, on what page, and how many pages are devoted to each topic or chapter.
Appendix This gives any extra long material relevant to a topic covered in the book.
Index This guides you to quickly find a page using a particular keyword.
Back cover This gives glimpse into the scope of the book.

Once you know what you have to read, here some reading techniques you can employ to get started:

  • Previewing – giving a quick glace at what you are about to read.
  • Sampling – this is slightly more than previewing. With sampling, you explore the content in more detail. You look at the headings or the contents to get a sense of what to expect.
  • Skimming – this is where you read the main points or other important material to get an overview of the subject.
  • Searching – this type of reading is done when you need to find a specific piece of information. The contents or the index may help you direct where to find what you need without reading front to back!
  • Selecting – you use selection reading when you need to focus your attention on a particular part or section of the book or chapter. For example, if you are writing a paper on cell phones, you may not want to read about other mobile devices.
  • Detailed – this is the approach for serious reading. Basically, you read to understand the content. What you choose to read may of course be determined by other reading techniques such s selection, search, and so on.

The type of reading technique(s) you choose will depend on your task. If your goal is to study for an exam, sampling or selective reading may not be enough. If you are studying for an exam, you should include detailed reading in your plans. If you are writing a paper on audio systems used in cars, it does not make much sense to do a detailed reading on every book or other material you find. Instead, you may use other reading techniques to filter out what you really should be reading in detail. So for any reading assignment, you may use one or more reading techniques.

To increase your comprehension of what you are reading, make sure you:

  • Read the introduction and the summary or conclusion
  • Read what is written as boldface, headings, or subheading. Read and understand any terms defined.
  • Take a look at the graphics, charts, diagrams, maps, tables, etc. The author have used this material for a particular purpose and you won’t know it unless you investigate
  • become aware of the reading aids such as tips, important notes, italics, bold face prints, etc.

When reading, in general, you should highlight or underline what is important or new to you. Disregard information that you think is not useful to you. The idea is when you read again you will quickly find what is important to you. Consequently, the second time (third time, or nth time) you start reading you will read less because you will be reading only but you have highlighted!

If what you read seems difficult, consider coming back to it later. Mark it remind yourself to read later. Read first what is easy for understanding. Hopefully, after you have read the easy sections, the difficult sections will make more sense to you. Remember difficult sections may require more than one reading so don’t be disappointed if you don’t get it the first time. If necessary, seek help from your teacher or instructor for difficult sections.

To test your reading comprehension, you may find it helpful to recall what you have read. Recalling can be done in number of ways but choose what works for you. For instance, after reading a section, you should try answering questions for that section. Or, you may summarize (orally or in writing) what you have read. If you are not able to recall all major points of the section, try reading the section again.

By testing yourself after each section, you are likely to retain more information.

Posted on 5/5/2008
by Raj Singh