Tips and strategies on how to improve your English reading comprehension


Hester for blogHello. My name is Hester and I am one of the teachers at Langports Gold Coast. Many people love to read in English. However, some people, especially students learning a second language, like English, often find reading difficult and not much fun. Students often focus too much on the meaning of individual words or word accuracy[1] and forget to try to make inferences (guess the meaning of a word or idea) and by doing, so end up not understanding parts of the text and reading slower.[2] This can be very frustrating and not enjoyable. Yet, it does not have to be that way. There are many ways to improve your reading and improve reading speed. Check out the reading tips below which show you ways to improve your English reading comprehension.

Tip 1: New words[3]

There are two steps on how to approach new vocabulary. Step 1 is simple. Before reading the text, quickly skim through the text and choose a few words (approx. 5) that keep appearing in the text. Look up the meaning of the words using either a dictionary or a glossary (if the text has one). Then quickly write down the definition that seems to fit with the word in the text. If you have time, use the word in a sentence that you have created and check the meaning of the word compared to what you have written.

Step 2 is just as simple. You do this while reading. When you find a new word, first sound out the word to yourself. That means you try to say the word using the phonetic sounds. Sometimes when you say the word aloud, you find that you actually recognise the word- you just might not have seen the word written down before. Then, look at the structure. See if you can tell the root word or whether it has any prefixes or suffixes which changed the meaning of the word. The next step is very important. Look at the context of the sentence or paragraph the word is in and guess the meaning of the word using the important information around it. Only when you have done this, then you can use a dictionary- that is, if you still don’t know the meaning. Also, try and use the dictionary at the end, when you have finished reading. Stopping to look up all the words you do not know will make your reading slower not faster!

booksTip 2:  Preview

Previewing is a very important reading strategy. It is something you do before you read the article in detail. Firstly, read the title and any subtitles of the text. This will help you understand what the different parts of the text are. Secondly, think about what the text is about. Ask yourself some questions: What do I know about the topic? Where and when did I read about this? What is my opinion about this topic? Who is the author? Why did the author write this? This is what teachers call “activating schemata” or in a less complicated way, “activating prior knowledge.” This not only helps you predict what the text is about but can help your brain to connect new information with old information.

Tip 3:  Ask and answer questions

Asking and answering questions about a text is an effective way to test what you understood about a text after you have read it. This will only take a few minutes before and after reading. Before reading, do some previewing. Write down some questions like: Who is the author? When was it written? What is text about? What important ideas is the author trying to tell me? Alternatively, try answering the wh’s questions (who, what where, when, why and how).  After you have finished the questions, read the text and while you read, think about the questions. You can answer the questions as you go or at the end.

Tip 4: Summarize

Like asking and answering questions, summarizing a text is a really good way to improve reading comprehension. You can start by doing Tips 1 to 3. Once you have finished, take the text away so that you cannot see it. Remove any notes you have taken while reading as well. Then, take a blank piece of paper and write 1 paragraph (maybe 5-8 sentences) summarizing the key ideas of the text.

Tip 5: Visualise

Make pictures of the text in your head or on paper. If you have an active imagination and are a visual learner, this is a great way to make the words “come to life.” Students who like drawing can read the text and then draw the ideas. If you do not like drawing, try to make a story in your head about what you have read. Ask yourself some of these questions to help get the pictures just right. Can I describe the picture or image? How can I do that? What images can I use and how can these help me and others to understand the text?library

Tip 6: Practice, practice, practice

Now that you know what to do, go out there and try these tips.. Make reading fun again. The more you practice them and strategies, the better your reading will become. As Francis Bacon once said, “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested!”


Written by Hester Mostert

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[1] Cain, K. & Oakhill, J. V. (1999) ‘Inference-making ability and its relation to comprehension failure in young students’, Reading and writing: an interdisciplinary journal, Vol. 11 pp. 489—503.

[2] Nation K. & Norbury, F. (2005) ‘Why reading comprehension fails: Insights from developmental disorders’, Topics in language disorders, 25, pp. 21—32.

[3] Procter, M. (2014). A system for dealing with new words while reading. Retrieved from: