Better Reading Comprehension: 5 Strategies

Today I’ll share five reading strategies that were helpful to me when I was an ESL student, and, hopefully, they will be valuable to your students as well.

Strategy 1. Previewing/Predicting

This is a common reading strategy. Previewing means getting familiar with the text before reading it. Previewing is a very important reading skill because it “enables readers to get a sense of what the text is about and how it is organized before reading it closely” (Salisbury University, 7 Critical Reading Strategies) When learners preview the text first, they understand it better while reading it.

You can help learners preview a text with activities such as brainstorming, asking questions, discussing relevant topics and themes, analyzing vocabulary from the text, and drawing on relevant life experiences.

 Strategy 2. Understanding Patterns of Organization

Understanding patterns of organization is an important reading skill. When learners understand a pattern of organization in a particular text, they will be able to follow the author’s ideas more quickly and efficiently.

Below are five patterns of organization that are most commonly used in English paragraphs:

Listing: The main idea is stated in the form of a generalization; the examples are given to support the main idea.

Signal words and phrases: for example, for instance, first, second, in addition, besides, finally, most important, also, another

Sequence: The idea is presented in a series of events or steps in a process.

Signal words and phrases: first, second, next, then, since, soon, at last, in 1980, last month, the next step, the following year, while, at last

Compare/Contrast: The main idea is presented in the comparison of two subjects in which both similarities and differences are addressed.

Signal words and phrases: similarly, in the same way, like, as, both, in contrast, however, but, on the other hand, although, yet, unlike

Cause/Effect: Events or ideas are presented as a result of other events or ideas.

Signal words and phrases: due to, because, as a result, as a consequence, is caused by, leads to, gives rise to, comes from, produces

Problem and Solution: The main idea is presented in the form of a problem with an indicated solution.

Signal words and phrases: resolved, solution, solve, situation, trouble, issue, dilemma

 Strategy 3. Inferring

Information in a passage is not always directly stated. Therefore, learners should be able to make guesses about the events or the author’s opinions and attitudes or the author’s purpose based on what they read in the text. This strategy is called inferring. Knowing how to infer will help learners better understand the text and develop their critical thinking.

Strategy 4. Determining the Purpose

Understanding any text starts with determining the purpose, that is, the reason the author wrote it. Below are the examples of three purposes:

To inform: The author explains or informs the reader about the facts.

To persuade: The author argues for or against an idea or topic by using different kinds of evidence.

To entertain: The author engages the reader with stories, humor, and anecdotes.

Sometimes, authors use more than one purpose in their texts.

To help them determine the author’s purpose, learners may ask themselves the following questions:

  • Does the text contain a lot of facts? If it does, then the author’s purpose can be either to persuade or inform.
  • Does the author use strongly positive, negative, or emotional language? If so, then the author’s purpose can be to persuade.
  • Does the author use objective and neutral language? If so, then the author’s purpose can be to inform.
  • Does the author use funny, intriguing descriptions and descriptive language? If so, does, then the author’s purpose can be to entertain.

Understanding the purpose of a given text will help learners better comprehend it and develop their ability to read critically.

Strategy 5. Questioning the Text

When I was learning English in an intensive English program, my reading instructor told us that one of the most effective ways to understand the text is to ask it questions. She said that by questioning the text, learners can also develop their critical thinking and use the information from the reading in real life contexts. She introduced us to two types of questions: thick and thin questions:

Thin questions are factual questions whose answers can be found in the text and that can be answered with a few words, phrases, or short sentences.

Thick questions, on the other hand, are inferential questions that require readers to think about more fully or even critically because the answers do not come solely from the text but from reader’s head (e.g., experience, background knowledge). Unlike thin questions, answers to thick questions are open to argument.

For example, if you are reading a passage that talks about how jealousy can destroy friendship, a thin question the reader might ask is, what are the signs of jealousy in a friendship? A thick question might be, how does jealousy destroy human relationships? Whereas the answer to the first question can be located in the text, the answer to the second question requires learners to reflect and draw on their life experiences.


About Elena Shvidko

Elena Shvidko
Elena Shvidko is an assistant professor at Utah State University. She received her doctorate in second language studies from Purdue University and her master’s degree in TESOL from Brigham Young University. Her work appears in TESOL Journal, System, Journal on Response to Writing, TESOL interest section newsletters, and TESOL's New Ways series. Her research interests include second language writing, multimodal interaction, interpersonal aspects of language teaching, and teacher professional development.
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4 Responses to Better Reading Comprehension: 5 Strategies

  1. Leslie Annette Ruiz Gutierrez says:

    This article involves all the strategies indicated in it in order to identify and reconize in it the application of the same.The ideal strategy to explain and guide the reader to acquire knowledge according to their ability or way of learning.

  2. Molly says:

    This is a great list of strategies! I especially like the list of questions you provided for helping determine a text’s purpose!

  3. Josh says:

    This was a very informative post from someone who has actually had firsthand experience using these strategies. I liked this information so much that I placed a link on my own article about reading comprehension (see my blog at and go to point 9 on The Benefits of Reading lecture page).
    Thanks for the tips!

  4. Hi Elena Thann you vert much for your blog on reanding .it is very interesting and helpful .it is very understandable .

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