Course Content
Chapter 3: Writing Mechanics Help
Chapter 12: Teaching Writing
Chapter 23: Teaching Reading
College English Composition: Help and Review
About Lesson

Skilled Readers

Skilled readers are those who read and comprehend what they’re reading at a high level. They improve their chances for comprehension by engaging in active reading, a type of reading that forces the reader to interact with the text. Even if you’re not as skilled of a reader as you’d like to be, you can improve by practicing the techniques that great readers use. Two elements of active reading are activating prior knowledge and making predictions.

Prior Knowledge

Have you ever been to a movie or started reading a book, and you were confused at first? Imagine watching the television show Firefly. The characters are dressed like cowboys from the 1800s, but they live on a futuristic space ship. Most people probably couldn’t figure out if the show was a western or science fiction. That confusion happens because your brain is trying to fit the new stimulus, in this case a TV show, into categories that have been already established in your mind. In education we call those categories schema. When reading a new story, book, essay, or article, one of the first things to do is to stop and think about which category the selection seems to fit. Once you have an idea, you can think about all the experiences you have with that category and use it to better understand the piece.

Here’s an example. Imagine you’ve been given a reading selection. You see a bold title at the top, ”Medieval Weaponry” and you scan the page for the text features, the elements on the page that help you understand what you’re reading. You see pictures of swords, some captions, and bolded words. The text features and the title help you know that you’re reading an informational essay on weapons from the medieval era. You’ve read informational essays before, and you’ve seen a couple of movies about knights. You know that informational essays usually have a main focus and paragraphs about different aspects of the focus. From your experience, you’ve seen knights wear armor and swing heavy metal swords, sometimes while riding horses.

Taking that moment to scan the selection is the moment your brain needs to fit it into existing schema. Now that you have an expectation that you’re reading an informational essay about the weapons that knights used, it should be easier to fully comprehend the selection.

Making Predictions

Once you’ve activated prior knowledge, it’s time to use that knowledge to make predictions. Let’s go back to the example of the informational essay. Based on your prior experiences and the clues you got from the text features, you may predict that the essay will explain the various types of swords and other weapons of that era. You might also predict that the essay will address big weapons, like catapults, that you’ve seen in movies. It’s not important to be right in your predictions. What’s important is making the predictions in the first place. Skilled readers make predictions and then check to see if those predictions are correct. Reading a selection to verify whether your prediction was accurate makes you an active reader who engages with the text. Active reading is key to understanding the meaning of a text. Instead of reading and rereading a selection, try connecting your prior knowledge and using that to make predictions. This active reading strategy should prove more effective than reading the same material multiple times. Use these steps to become a more active reader:

Four steps to becoming a more active reader

Lesson Summary

Skilled readers practice strategies associated with active reading. First they scan a text, examining the text features and title for clues about the format and subject of the text. Then they think about what they already know to connect the selection with existing schema. Next, as they read, they make predictions and check the accuracy of those predictions. Engaging with the text in this way improves comprehension more than reading through the text or even reading it multiple times.

Join the conversation