Main reading strategies improving extensive reading skills

Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №6 - 2014

Murumbayeva Aliya, Kazakh-American Free University, Kazakhstan
Chzhan Yelena, East Kazakhstan State University in honor of S. Amanzholov, Kazakhstan

Reading is an incredibly active occupation in which people extract meaning from the discourse they see. It is not a passive skill. To do it successfully, we have to understand what the words mean, see the pictures the words are painting, understand the arguments, and work out if we agree with them. If we do not do these things then we just scratch the surface of the text and we quickly forget it [1; p. 89]

Researches make difference between “extensive” and “intensive” reading. Many academicians suggest “extensive” reading as reading at length, often for pleasure and in a leisurely way, while “intensive” reading tends to be more concentrated, less relaxed, and often dedicated not so much to pleasure as to the achievement of a study goal [4; p. 199].

Extensive reading – especially where students are reading material written specially at their level – has a number of benefits for the development of a student’s language. This kind of reading makes students more positive, improves their overall comprehension skills, gives them a wider passive and active vocabulary, enables students to read without constantly stopping and provides an increased word recognition. It is the best possible way for them to develop automaticity.

When we read a story or a newspaper, we employ our previous knowledge as we approach the process of comprehension [4; p. 202]. Reading comprehension is defined as the level of understanding of a passage or text. Reading at the rate of 200 to 220 words per minute is considered as a normal speed of reading. For normal reading rates, 75% is an acceptable level of comprehension. That means if a reader can understand the meaning of at least 75% of the total text given, then it is regarded as acceptable limits for reading comprehension.

Comprehension is the only reason for reading, especially extensive reading. Without comprehension, reading is a frustrating, pointless exercise in word calling. It is no exaggeration to say that how well students develop the ability to comprehend what they read has a profound effect on their entire lives. A major goal of teaching reading comprehension, therefore, is to help students develop the knowledge, skills, and experiences they must have if they are to become competent and enthusiastic readers.

For many years, teaching reading comprehension was based on a concept of reading as the application of a set of isolated skills such as identifying words, finding main ideas, identifying cause and effect relationships, comparing and contrasting, and sequencing. Teaching reading comprehension was viewed as a mastery of these skills. Comprehension instruction followed what the study called mentioning, practicing, and assessing procedure where teachers mentioned a specific skill that students were to apply, had students practice the skill by completing workbook pages, then assessed them to find out if they could use the skill correctly. Instruction neither did little to help students learn how or when to use the skills, nor was is ever established that this particular set of skills enabled comprehension.

Latest research indicates that comprehensions built through the teaching of comprehension strategies and environments that support understanding of a text. It is important for educators to teach students active strategies and skills to help them become active, purposeful readers. Teaching reading comprehension is an active process of constructing meaning, not skill application. The act of constructing meaning is:

interactive– it involves not just the reader, but the text and the context in which reading takes place.

strategic – readers have purposes for their reading and use a variety of strategies as they construct meaning.

adaptable – readers change the strategies they use as they read different kinds of text or as they read for different purposes [8].

Various methods are used to improve reading comprehension that include training the ability to self-assess comprehension, actively test comprehension using a set of questions and by improving metacognition. Theoretical teaching (teaching conceptual) and a better knowledge of language can also prove of immense help. Practice plays more pivotal part in development and honing the skills of reading comprehension. Self-assessment with the help of elaborate interrogation and summarizing also helps.

Effective reading comprehension is the culmination of mastering vocabulary, phonics, fluency and reading comprehension skills. Person having good comprehension skills is considered as active reader, with an ability to interact with the words by understanding its complete meaning and the concept behind it. Thus, skill of reading comprehension distinguishes an active reader from a passive reader who just read the text without getting its meaning.

There is much difference between good readers and poor (passive) readers.

What do usually good readers do?

Before reading, good readers tend to set goals for their reading.

During reading, good readers read words accurately and quickly, while dealing with meanings of words.

Good readers are selective as they read.

Good readers use their background knowledge (schema) to create mental images, ask questions, and make inferences.

Good readers monitor their comprehension as they read.

How Do Poor Readers Differ From Good Readers?

Poor readers do not have sufficient awareness to develop, select, and apply strategies that can enhance their comprehension.

Poor readers rarely prepare before reading.

During reading, poor readers may have difficulty decoding, reading too slowly, and lack fluency.

Poor readers often lack sufficient background knowledge and have trouble making connections with text.

Some poor readers are unaware of text organization.

After reading, poor readers do not reflect on what they have just read.

To main reading comprehension strategies, we can refer the following:

1. Making Connections

We make personal connections with the text by using our schema. There are three main types of connections we can make during reading:

Text-to-Self: Refers to connections made between the text and the reader's personal experience.

Text-to-Text: Refers to connections made between a text being read to a text that was previously read.

Text-to-World: Refers to connections made between a text being read and something that occurs in the world.

2. Creating Mental Images (Visualizing)

This strategy involves the ability of readers to make mental images of a text as a way to understand processes or events they encounter during reading. This ability can be an indication that a reader understands the text. Some research suggests that readers who visualize as they read are better able to recall what they have read than those who do not visualize.

3. Questioning

This strategy involves readers asking themselves questions throughout the reading of text. The ability of readers to ask themselves relevant questions as they read is especially valuable in helping them to integrate information, identify main ideas, and summarize information. Asking the right questions allows good readers to focus on the most important information in a text.

4. Inferring

Authors do not always provide complete descriptions of, or explicit information about a topic, setting, character, or event. However, they often provide clues that readers can use to “read between the lines”— by making inferences that combine information in the text with their schema.

5. Evaluating (Determining Importance)

Determining importance has to do with knowing why you’re reading and then making decisions about what information or ideas are most critical to understanding the overall meaning of the piece.

6. Synthesizing

Synthesizing is the process of ordering, recalling, retelling, and recreating into a coherent whole the information with which our minds are bombarded everyday. Synthesizing is closely linked to evaluating. Basically, as we identify what’s important, we interweave our thoughts to form a comprehensive perspective to make the whole greater than just the sum of the parts [5; 6; 7].

It’s hard to teach reading comprehension strategies without teaching students about metacognition and schema (background knowledge). Although "metacognition" and "schema" aren't comprehension strategies, they are very important for teaching reading comprehension strategies [3]. Simply put, metacognition means “to think about your thinking”. Mathematical equation can be used to teach this concept to students: Text + Thinking = Real Reading. When we read the text and think at the same time, we are “real reading”…or being metacognitive! [5]

Scholars define schema (background knowledge) as the meaning you get from a piece of literature that is intertwined with the meaning you bring to it. A layering occurs, a weaving of past and present, an amalgam of old and new ideas and experiences. When you read, sometimes you activate your schema or you build upon it. One student described schema simply as “everything that is stuck in your brain”… A reader who hasn’t such pre-existing knowledge would find the reading task more difficult. It means that understanding a piece of discourse involves much more than just knowing the language [7; p. 216].

However, it is not enough to tell students “to read a lot”; we need to offer them a program, which includes appropriate materials, guidance, tasks, and facilities such as permanent or portable libraries of books, in other words to create appropriate environments for reading [4; p. 204].

One of the fundamental conditions of a successful extensive reading program is that students should be reading material, which they can understand. If they are struggling to understand every word, they can hardly be reading for pleasure – the main goal of this activity. This means that teachers need to provide books, which either by chance, or because they have been specially written, are readily accessible to students.

Specially written materials for extensive reading may be called “language learner literature” and are often referred to as “readers” or “simplified readers” [2; p. 7].

They can take the form of original fiction and non-fiction books as well as simplifications of established works of literature. Such books succeed because the writers or adaptors work within specific lists of allowed words and grammar. This means that students at the appropriate level can read them with ease and confidence. At their best, such books, despite the limitations on language, can speak to the reader through the creation of atmosphere and/or compelling plot lines.

Another thing is that in order to set up an extensive reading program, we need to build up a library of suitable books. Although this may appear costly, it will be money well spent.

We need to devise some way of keeping track of the books in the library.

The role of the teacher in extensive reading programs is crucial. Most students will not do a lot of extensive reading by themselves unless they are encouraged to do so by their teachers. Perhaps, for example, teachers can occasionally read aloud from books they like and show, by their manner of reading, how exciting the books can be.

Having persuaded the students about the benefits of extensive reading, teachers can organize reading programs where they indicate to students how many books they expect them to read over a given period. They can explain how students can make their choice of what to read, making it clear that the choice is theirs, but that they can consult other students’ reviews and comments to help them make that choice. They can look for books in a genre (be it crime fiction, romantic novels, science fiction, etc.) that they enjoy, and that they make appropriate level choices. Teachers can act throughout as part organizer, part tutor.

Before starting extensive reading, the tasks should be set. Because students are allowed to choose their own reading texts, following their own likes and interests, they will not all be reading the same texts at once. For this reason, and to prompt students to keep reading, teachers should encourage them report back on their reading in a number of ways.

One approach is to set aside a time at various points in a course – may be every two weeks – at which students can ask questions and/or tell their classmates about books they have found particularly enjoyable, or noticeably awful. However, if this is inappropriate because not all students read at the same speed – or because they often do not have much to say about the books in front of their colleagues, we can ask them each to keep a weekly reading diary either on its own, or as a part of any learning journal they may be writing. Students can also write short book reviews for the class notice board. At the end of a month, a semester, or a year, they can vote on the most popular book in the library.

Teachers can also put comment sheets into the books for students to write in (with giving rating and comments about books).

It does not really matter which of these tasks students are asked to perform if that what they are asked to do helps to keep them reading as much and often as possible.

Though, the ability to read is considered one of the most important skills that learners of English as a Second Language and English as a Foreign Language need to acquire, extensive reading is still most often seen as additional or supplemental to the main program, which can be omitted if time does notallow. However, it should be a core part of every language program’s curriculum, and all language programs should have an extensive reading component to deepen and enrich the language the learners meet in their coursework.


1. Nuttall Christine. Teaching Reading Skills in a Foreign Language. London: Heinemann Educational. 1999. – p. 87-95.

2. Day, R. R. and Bamford, J. Extensive reading in the second language classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. - p. 7-8.

3. Flavell, J. H. (1979). Metacognition and cognitive monitoring: A new area of cognitive-developmental inquiry. American Psychologist, 34, 906 - 911.

4. Jeremy Harmer. The Practice of English Language Teaching. Longman, 2001. – p. 199-227.

5. Tanny Mc Gregor. Comprehension Connections. Heineman, 2007. – p. 28.

6. Debbie Miller. Reading with Meaning. Stenhouse Publishers, 2002. – p. 47.

7. Susan Zimmermann, Chryse Hutchins.7 Keys to Comprehension. Crown Publishing Group, 2008. – p. 214-220.


Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №6 - 2014

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