top of page

What is Reading?

Reading is a cognitive process in which we decode symbols in order to extract meaning from them. Reading – along with listening – is a receptive skill. That means that we do not need to produce information when we read, but else receive it and comprehend it. In order to help learners develop their reading skills, we need to help them develop strategies and go through processes that can aid their comprehension. If learners are proficient readers in the first language, we can help them transfer their reading strategies to the second language.

Stages of a Reading lesson

A receptive skills lesson is usually composed of the following stages:

- Lead-in

- Post-reading

In order to illustrate the aim and possible procedures for these stages, let’s take a look at a lesson where students were asked to read a Wikipedia entry about the Irish band U2.


This phase aims at generating learners’ interest and engage them in the topic. This can be done by posing a question for discussion or using an image to call students’ attention to a particular subject. For example, you may ask learners:

What kind of music do you like?

What are your favourite bands?

Have you ever been to a music concert?

The aim of the pre-reading stage is to prepare learners for the text they are going to read. In this stage, we design activities to activate students’ schemata and previous knowledge about the topic. We may also pre-teach vocabulary or help students remember characteristics of the text genre they are going to read.

In our lesson about U2, the teacher may help students activate their schemata by asking them to brainstorm what they know about this band. Students might build a mind map together or make a list. In this stage, it is important to allow learners to work collaboratively – a student with more background knowledge about the topic might help those who do not know so much about U2.

In this stage, learners have the chance to actually read the text and decode the message being conveyed. For this part of the lesson, it is vital to inform learners the reason why they are reading the text and provide them with the appropriate strategies to develop their reading skills.

Reading for the gist:

Also known as skimming. When learners read for the gist their aim is to quickly go over the text to understand the general idea. In order to help learners identify the main idea of the text, teachers can:

- Ask students to choose the best title for a text;

- Ask students to identify the authors attitude or opinion;

- Ask students to identify the text genre.

In our example, students can quickly take a look at the text and decide what kind of text it is. Students can identify that it is an article taken from the Wikipedia by looking at the layout, reading only the first paragraph and by noticing that there is a fact file embedded in the text.

Taken from

Reading for specific information:

When we read for specific information, we read the text quickly focussing only on the information that we want – this is also known as scanning the text. Common activities to help learners scan a text are:

- true/false exercises

- multiple-choice questions

- correcting the wrong information

If you want students to scan the Wikipedia entry being used as an example, you can ask them to check if the information predicted by them in the pre-reading phase is correct or not. This will make them only look for the facts they had listed previously, ignoring other parts of the text.

Both skimming and scanning are strategies students might already use when they read in their first language – in a reading lesson, it is vital to make students aware that these strategies can also be used when reading in a second language. Amongst other strategies learners can develop in a reading comprehension lesson are:

- inferring meaning from context;

- understanding text organization;

- identifying referencing devices.


In the post-reading phase, students have a chance to react to the text they have just read. This can be done by:

- asking their opinion about the topic;

- allowing them to say whether they agree with the author or not;

- asking them to role play a dialogue between two of the characters of a text.

In our example, a useful way of allowing learners to react to the text is to ask them if they would like to write a Wikipedia entry about their favourite band or artist and what type of information they would include.

Reading subskills

Apart from staging the lesson in a logical way, it is important to help students develop reading subskills which will help them become better readers. Keep an eye on future posts where will be sharing ideas on how to develop reading subskills!


Grabe, W. (2009) Reading in a Second Language: Moving from Theory to Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Nuttall, C. (2005) Teaching Reading Skills in a Foreign Language. Oxford: Macmillan Education.


Andreia Zakime is an Academic Coordinator at Cultura Inglesa São Paulo and one of the co-founders of What is ELT?

  • Black Facebook Icon
  • Black Twitter Icon
  • Black Pinterest Icon
  • Black Instagram Icon
bottom of page