Improve Reading Skills
with These Proven Techniques

Improve your 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

Techniques to Improve Your Reading Skills
Lady reading a book in a library
'Learn to scan, decode, find context clues & transitional words, make inferences +'

Scanning is taking a quick look 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 you are looking for specific information, scanning can help you decide whether a particular text might be useful, and where to find that information within it.

Skimming is looking quickly through a section of text to get its main idea, or sometimes to find certain key words. It looks at the text in a little more detail than scanning does, to get a general idea of the content without reading every word.

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.

Word Analysis 

man reading a textbook

Word Analysis Skills can help you 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 is 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

Context Clues can often help you 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 not yet 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.

You can improve your use of context clues with practice. When you find an unknown word, try to figure out its meaning from the context (surrounding words) before you look it up-- then see how well you guessed. This is will help you remember the word better after looking up its meaning-- and also improve your skill in using context.

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 you follow the author’s reasoning and transitions between ideas without getting lost in the details.

 Improve Reading Skills with Inferences

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.) A 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 says 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 (wrong).

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

More Practice to Improve Your Reading Skills

You can find lessons teaching many of these reading 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 and improve these reading skills on EnglishHints. For skimming and then analyzing a reading passage on mental health, see the Quiz in Check your Reading Skill. See English Reading Comprehension Strategies for ways to understand and focus on a reading (before, during, and after the reading itself).

You can skim or scan the reading materials recommended on Comprehension Exercises, try using decoding and context clues with any words you don't know, make inferences, and check for transition words to help you recognize their main points and follow their logic. Then check your understanding with a comprehension quiz (for many of them.)

No one uses all these skills with every reading selection. However, being able to use them when needed will help you read more efficiently.

They will increase your reading comprehension, enable you to find the information you need more quickly, and make reading in English more enjoyable. It really is worth the time it takes to improve your reading skills!

Home > ESL Lesson Plans > Improve Reading Skills.

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