Improve Reading Skills
Using These Proven Techniques

Help your students improve their reading skills, fluency, and comprehension with a few simple techniques.

These include scanning and skimming, “chunking,” word analysis and decoding, using context clues, recognizing sequence markers and transitional words, and making inferences.

Scanning, Skimming, and Chunking to spot information quickly

Woman looking up from the book she is reading.

Scanning is glancing quickly at a text, noting its basic organization, or sometimes searching for a specific name, date, word, or fact.

It involves studying the title and subtitles or headings, pictures, graphs, and highlighted information to get a basic idea of the main topics the author will consider.

If your students are looking for specific information, scanning can help them decide whether a particular text might be useful, and where to find that information within it.

Skimming is looking quickly over a section of text to get its main idea, or sometimes to find certain key words.

For practice scanning subtitles and headings, and skimming a text for specific information, see Practice Scanning and Skimming for Information.

Chunking is reading groups of words-- phrases or even a sentence or more-- at a time, rather than stopping at each individual word. It increases reading comprehension, fluency, and efficiency by encouraging focus on the author’s ideas rather than word for word translation.

Improve Reading Skills with Word Analysis & Context Clues

man reading a textbook
man reading a textbook

Word Analysis Skills can help students figure out the meaning of new words. Analysis may include recognizing the parts of a long word (prefixes, roots, or suffixes). Another way to find out if a word is familiar by decoding its pronunciation using phonics: the possible sounds different letter combinations make in English.

For more on word analysis, see List of Prefixes, List of Suffixes, and 50 Word Roots from Latin.

 For phonics and the sounds that English letters represent, see ESL PhonicsEnglish VowelsEnglish Vowel Digraphs, and Consonant Digraph Sounds.

Context Clues can often help students recognize the meaning of an unknown word. Sometimes a text will define, explain, or give examples of an important word or concept. This is especially likely in textbooks introducing an academic subject to students who may not be familiar with its specialized vocabulary. 

At times there may be no clear definition or examples of a word, but the sentence or sentences around it will often give clues to its meaning. The context surrounding a word can also show its connotations (positive or negative feeling), and its exact use when a word has more than one meaning.

Pointing out context clues in a class reading selection can help students learn to look for them on their own.

Using Sequence Markers & Transition Words

Recognizing Sequence Markers And Transition Words helps readers understand the organization of an author’s thoughts. Here are some (of many) words showing:

Sequence or Order






after that

last of all


Cause & Effect




as a consequence



it follows that




even though





on the other hand

All these words can help a reader follow the author’s reasoning and transitions between ideas without getting lost in the details.

Making Inferences Also Improves Reading Skills

Making Inferences is drawing conclusions about the whole message an author is communicating, including thoughts he or she may not be state explicitly. In any text the author will clearly state some facts or opinions. There are other ideas he or she will only hint at or imply.

(This is similar to speaking. Part of our message is expressed by tone of voice, facial expression, and gestures-- not just by our words.) The reader makes inferences or judgments based on the author’s words and the story’s background.

The short video below gives several examples of inferences-- in daily life and based on evidence in a text. (Unfortunately, it's too big to show on most mobile phones. Sorry!)

Here's an historical example from Federalist #1. It was written in 1787 to encourage the adoption of the U.S. Constitution.

“Candor will oblige us to admit that even such [ambitious] men may be actuated by upright intentions; and it cannot be doubted that much of the opposition which has made its appearance, or may hereafter make its appearance, will spring from sources, blameless at least, if not respectable--the honest errors of minds led astray by preconceived jealousies and fears.”

The writer states that even men who would profit if the Constitution is defeated (discussed in the paragraph before this sentence) may also have honest reasons for opposing it. He also says that much of the opposition (to the proposed Constitution) is based on honest misunderstandings and fears.

However, he strongly implies that opposition to the Constitution is misguided.

We can infer he believes if people will listen to facts and reason instead of emotion they will decide to support the Constitution.

You can find lessons teaching many of these skills (making inferences, using context clues, scanning, skimming, and word analysis) in the Word Detectives unit on Reading Comprehension Lesson Plans.

It's also possible to practice several of these reading skills on site. For skimming and then analyzing a reading passage on mental health, see the Quiz in Check your Reading Skill. See Reading Comprehension Strategies for ways to help students understand and focus on a reading (before, during, and after the reading itself). 

No one uses all these skills with every reading selection. However, being able to use them when needed will help students read more efficiently. They will increase students' reading comprehension, enable them to find the information they need more quickly, and make reading in English more enjoyable. It really is worth the time it takes to improve reading skills!

Home > ESL Lesson Plans > Improve Reading Skills.

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