Reading is an essential skill for success in any facet of life. Reading is more than simply picking out words on a page; it is a process of critical thinking which involves evaluating ideas and applying them to everyday situations. Basic reading comprehension skills include vocabulary acquisition, pre-reading strategies, textual comprehension, organizational skills and response techniques. Mastering basic reading skills enables a reader to increase their reading speed, comprehension, and overall vocabulary. This is especially true for readers new to the English language who will find that utilizing ESL reading strategies will better help them understand what they've read.
The first step towards reading comprehension is understanding phonemes: the building blocks of words. Employing phonics is a method of teaching people to read words by correlating sounds with letters. Phonics instruction develops understanding of the individual sounds of each word being read– a key skill of fluent readers. Learners can begin to detect patterns in pronunciation when they read, which can aid in understanding the meaning of words as well as provide a tool to understand new words that come up during the reading process. Phonological awareness is the first and most crucial step in reading instruction.
Acquisition of Vocabulary Skills
One of the most important aspects of acquiring reading skills is increasing vocabulary. An important basic skill in reading is recognizing words. To acquire a larger vocabulary the reader should practice word recognition using sight words and high-frequency word use lists such as the Dolch Basic Sight Vocabulary or Fry's List of 1000 High-Frequency Words. These words are practiced with flash cards, word walls, and worksheets. A person can improve their vocabulary also by working crossword puzzles and playing board games such as Scrabble. Games and other non-traditional teaching methods may be especially helpful for readers who have a reading disability or other learning challenge as it may help to look at words out of the context of a book or a newspaper to understand what they mean.
Pre-reading strategies are crucial to developing long-term reading fluency. One technique includes taking the time to become acquainted with the text before jumping into the actual main body of the text. Readers should examine the title, background information, author information and subheadings within the text. Readers should also note any highlighted or boldfaced words as well as captions under photographs. From these natural breaks in the text, readers should employ segmenting to put the article into more digestible chunks. Previewing any pictures or sidebars that accompany the text will provide valuable background knowledge and help the reader to connect with the material before actually beginning to read. Struggling readers should use these techniques as they hone their reading ability.
Learning Reading Comprehension
An important skill in reading is learning to comprehend the main idea of a text. This is accomplished by first determining the thesis statement of the text. The thesis statement, or topic sentence, tells the reader what the text is about; it is the most important sentence in the text. Sometimes the main idea is implied rather than directly stated in a sentence and the reader must learn how to infer (make an educated guess) as to what the main idea of the text is in order to comprehend the material as a whole.
Learning Organizational Skills
Another basic skill that is essential to reading is the ability to organize the material. This helps in improving reading comprehension and in increasing reading speed. Ways of organizing the information include highlighting key points, making notes in the margins and preparing an outline of the text. Training oneself to organize key points while reading aids in comprehension and improves reading speed.
Comprehension and Response
Summarizing the reading material allows the reader to personalize the information they have read. Studies show that people retain information better when they are able to relate it to their own personal experience. A summary of a reading text requires that the reader restate the main idea of the material and reflect on their own reaction to the content of the text. This basic reading skill is essential to becoming a better reader.
Karen Silvestri is an English professor at Palm Beach State College in Lake Worth, Fla., and has been writing professionally since 1997. She also leads workshops on memoir writing, journaling, creative writing and poetry in her community and online. Silvestri holds a Bachelor of Arts in English, and studied business and education at the graduate level.