Improve Your Reading Comprehension with these Simple Strategies

As an unconscious skill, it may seem like a wide vocabulary and solid understanding of grammar is all it takes to become a productive reader, but that’s simply not the case. Most people can read and understand text, but few can absorb the information and use it in the future. Comprehension is the goal of reading, and just like any other skill, it can be perfected and honed.

Ask yourself, how much do you really take in? Think about the last book or legal contract you read. Could you recite all of the character’s names and define the story’s sub-plots? Did you truly understand the jargon in the small print? Probably not. While these are extreme examples, they’ll no doubt put things into perspective. You may be a fluent speaker with impeccable language skills, but that doesn’t mean you’re a “good” reader.

Since the dawn of education, reading comprehension strategies have been implemented into the classroom to help students become active readers and learn with speed and efficiency. Whether you’re a teacher looking to inspire your students, or simply want to become a more productive reader yourself, these tips will help.


Develop a Pre and Post Reading Routine

Metacognition is the process of thinking about thinking. To truly enhance your reading comprehension you must develop metacognitive strategies by planning, monitoring and evaluating the task at hand. In the same way you would prepare to write an essay with an outline, you can prepare to read.  Think about what you’re trying to learn and make some notes. When you finish reading the text, test yourself to ensure you understood everything. It may seem tedious and unnecessary, but taking a few minutes to plan your reading and summarize the text is far more productive than reading the whole piece over and over again.


Adjust Your Reading Speed

This is one of the most important strategies of all! While you can plough through certain texts with ease, you probably can’t skim a technical manual with the same speed and level of understanding. Take your time to absorb every sentence and ensure that the context is clear. It’s all-too-easy to get caught up in the moment, let your mind drift, and find yourself unable to account for previous pages. When reading to others, take frequent breaks to summarize what has been said in a short and concise manner – everyone absorbs information at different speeds.


Use the Pomodoro Technique

Don’t be a clock watcher; taking your time and knowing when to give your brain five minutes to recuperate is all part of the reading comprehension process. A break is something you should schedule like anything else. Try using the Pomodoro technique. This is one of the most common ways to implement a schedule in the classroom. Set a timer for 25 minutes and take a short five minute break when the alarm goes off – don’t even finish the sentence. Get a drink, have a snack or just relax your mind. Repeat this process three or four times, and then give yourself an extended break after about two hours. When you read in such short and concise periods, you’ll find yourself absorbing far more information than if you troll through from beginning to end without stopping.


Work with Others

Cooperative learning can significantly boost reading comprehension. Working in small groups or with a partner essentially allows you to split the workload; furthermore, it has been proven that students actually learn more from their peers than their teachers. Working in a team is a subconscious motivator. While nobody likes to be left behind, the “leaders” won’t want all of the responsibility to fall on them. Don’t be afraid to challenge others or encourage harmless debating. This will help you you see the text from unknown perspectives. If you work alone, compare and contrast answers and summaries with others, and then re-evaluate your results after having a constructive discussion.


Visualize the Text

Visualize the text and connect it to something that you will always remember. For example, if you have a passion for Shakespeare and can recite the synopsis for Romeo and Juliet off the top of your head, you should be able to remember most other romantic stories as they’ll have the same skeletal structure – just compare the key plot changes. Some people try to connect the text with images or create a “mind-movie” in order to help the text come alive. Alternatively, you could connect the most important elements to real life experiences and memories. Fundamentally, the goal of visualization is to place less strain on your mind by connecting the text to something that already interests you.


Determine What’s Important

When you’re reading, the most interesting facts aren’t always the most important. Try to: distinguish between fact and fiction; explore the cause-and-effect relationship of the information; compare and contrast different ideas; discern themes and perspectives; and pinpoint solutions to problems. Write down the most important points in a separate document. In addition, actively engage with the text on a visual level. Underlining and highlighting important keywords and sentences will not only emphasize their importance, but will turn the text into a visual medium. Pictures and videos are much easier to absorb, and while a page riddled with bright colors and bold headings certainly won’t look like a work of art, it will be far more engaging.


Read Out Loud

Verbalizing text can help you to understand things that don’t make sense in your head. When reading aloud in front of others, read short passages and analyze the context of each section before moving on. This is especially useful when reading dense texts – such as poetry and scientific journals – where the meanings can be quite ambiguous. When you read, speak and write, your brain will essentially process the information three times over, and in three different ways; therefore, it becomes three times more potent in your memory.


Use the GIST Technique

The GIST Technique will help you make sense of difficult passages. After reading a section of text, select the most important eight to ten words and use them to write a short one to two sentence summary of the passage. Remember the five W’s? – Who, what, when, where and why? This age-old Q&A technique forms the foundation of information-gathering. While it was established in the 1st century BC in ancient Greece, it’s still as relevant today as it was 2000 years ago. When using the GIST Technique, if the summary doesn’t answer all of these questions, it’s missing something very important.


Everyone is different, some of these methods will work for you and some might not. The most important thing is to find something that you can incorporate into your routine or teach in the classroom. Always assess your chosen reading comprehension strategies with close scrutiny and don’t be afraid to try out new methods if the old ones don’t work; you could even develop your own!

One comment
  1. Anonymous

    October 2, 2015 at 3:01 pm

    Another good tip you could add to this list, is to concentrate your attention on whole phrases at a time. The phrase, “the big black dog” can be read at a glance and is more meaningful than the individual words read one… at… a… time.


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