Reading strategies in the subject areas


Confident readers don’t read everything in the same way but rather, use different strategies depending on what they are reading and what the purpose is. For example,

  • If we want to find out what time a TV programme starts, we do not read the whole TV page: we scan it quickly and home in on the right time and channel.
  • If we want to find out if a health and safety booklet about our area covers the right ground, we do not read it from cover to cover: we skim through it quickly, looking at the table of contents, section headings and sub-headings, index if there is one, illustrations, captions.
  • If we are following a new recipe for the first time, or assembling flat-pack furniture, we have to read text or pictures very closely, paying attention to every word and abbreviation.


You are already using these strategies yourself, in your own reading of your subject-related texts and you can pass them on to your learners in the natural course of your work.

  • Model effective reading of the relevant kinds of material, in ways appropriate to your situation.  For example, a catering instructor or cookery teacher can think aloud the steps in reading a recipe (‘We’re making lasagne for 20 people today… Let’s scan the ‘Contents’ page to find the recipe….It should come under the ‘Main Course’ section….Found it….Now, how much flour will we need…I’ll just scan the ‘Ingredients’…Got it…) 
  • Explain how you are reading as you work with the group on a practical task. You can use ‘read aloud and think aloud’ strategy in relation to any reading, whether it is a short set of instructions or reading a chapter from an academic book
  • Guide learners’ reading, in the theory or study part of the class, by drawing attention to the reading strategies most appropriate for the task: for example, “we don’t need to read this whole page, just scan it to find the paragraph where x is mentioned and we’ll read that.”
  • Use ‘self talk’ as you decide what to read and as you do the reading.  (“Now, what’s this chapter about; wonder will it help me in finding out about X or Y… What’s the title? Okay. …I’ll just check the headings; okay;  I’ll just skim through to get the gist…. … I wonder does it say anything about Y…I’ll just scan to see if it’s mentioned….). 

Model the things that effective readers of the particular material do automatically, before, during and after reading.


Before reading:

  • Clarify the overall purpose for reading the particular handout or text: for example, “we are reading  this in order to get important information about safety”.
  • State what the concrete task will be: for example ‘as part of this we will…:
  • create a flow chart of the process;
  • create a bank of questions and answers for our board game;
  • find information, facts and figures about X;
  • prepare a presentation on Y; 
  • select the content for an interactive word wall….’
  • Preview the text with the group. Give an overview of its content, point out its structure, and indicate the signposts that guide the reader: for example, the headings, sub-headings, page numbers, any charts, graphs and illustrations. 
  • Explain any new, subject-specific terminology it may contain that you think may be new or unfamiliar to the learners.  Pay particular attention to common or familiar words that have one meaning in ‘everyday life’, but another in the context of your subject.
  • Help learners prepare to read with more focus by providing, or helping them to identify, specific questions they could keep in mind as they read. 
  • Help learners to identify and draw on their prior knowledge and experience of the topic: for example, ask ‘what do you know about this topic already?’  and facilitate discussion and other activities on this,This will help learners to be ready to read with more interest, confidence and understanding. 
  • Clarify and discuss the reading strategies to use for the particular material:  skimming, scanning, close reading?
  • Read the piece aloud in a way that helps the learners to understand its meaning, and that also demonstrates what ‘good readers’ do  when reading this kind of material.


During reading:

  • Encourage learners to use ‘self-talk’ as they read:  pausing occasionally to ask themselves questions about what they are reading:  What has the main point been in what I have just read? Do I understand it? What questions do I have about it?
  • Encourage re-reading if necessary before moving on.
  • Encourage learners to predict what might come next.
  • Encourage and support learners to take useful notes as they read, as appropriate to the purpose. 
  • Encourage collaborative reading, in small groups, briefing learners to use the ‘before and during’ strategies you have modelled, in the context of a clear purpose for the reading.


After reading:

  • Allow enough time for the learners to read and process what they have read, and to formulate their questions or comments before carrying out practical activities based on the text.
  • Facilitate individual and group activities associated with the text.  
  • Ask learners to discuss what they have read, in pairs and/or in small groups. Give a small number of questions to focus and guide their discussion.
  • Ask learners to do something to sum up their learning from or response to what they have read.  Perhaps you and the learners agreed a particular task or challenge, such as those listed under ‘Before’ above.  Learners could 
  • translate the main points of the text into another format, such as a mind-map or flowchart or graph;
  • prepare a verbal presentation;
  • teach someone else in the group;
  • design a poster;
  • tweet a summary or a question.
  • Facilitate learners to develop a glossary of key terms for each topic.
  • Where time allows, involve learners in making and using interactive word walls.  Learners can identify key words and concepts in the course texts, and design a word wall that communicates their meaning visually and that can be a resource for varied learning activities. The word wall is not a static or permanent feature of the environment: learners redesign it to suit the topic in hand at any given time. 
  • You could also ask learners to make a ‘number wall’ or maths poster related to the topic they are exploring, to convey the relevant statistics, measurements, mathematical concepts or processes involved.
  • Develop versions of subject handouts at different levels of reading complexity  as appropriate to your learners’ needs.  Be sure to maintain the appropriate level and complexity of content.  
  • Summary versions of texts are helpful for all learners in the group as a revision aid.  Appropriately used, as part of a range of  texts at different levels of complexity, they can help scaffold learners’ development of reading skills.


Tips for making course materials easier to read

When making course handouts:

  • use minimum 12 point font in a sans serif font such as Verdana or Calibri.
  • leave plenty of space between lines and between paragraphs
  • use sub-headings to help guide the reader
  • use images when and if they help highlight the key points
  • use a photocopier to enlarge published handouts if necessary.


Some learners may find some of the following helpful:

  • Use coloured paper for handouts (pastel)
  • Use different colours to highlight different learning points.
  • Provide overlays or transparencies in different colours to cover reading material (learners can choose the ones that suit them best)
  • Provide written information in audio- or video-recorded formats.
  • Show how to change the font size or background colour on the computer screen to make reading on-screen easier.
  • Use icons and images as well as written labels and captions.