Reading strategies

On a forum with ESL teachers there is a lively discussion about reading strategies and the importance of teaching reading strategies to struggling readers.

I expressed the view that letting readers read what they wanted, and finding material at their level, perhaps with glossaries, or online dictionaries, and audio to help them , is more effective than trying to teach reading strategies. People will become better readers simply by reading, and reading a lot.

I feel that teaching reading strategies could turn readers off, decrease their enjoyment of reading, decrease their sense of personal discovery, increase anxiety, and is at best unnecessary.

Many teachers oppose my position, and claim that, especially for reading in foreign languages, a strategy is needed. Let me know if you use reading strategies when reading in your own language or in foreign languages.

Here are some example strategies that are taught. You can find lots of info on this by googling.

Make Predictions
Ask and Answer Questions
Retell and Summarize
Connect the Text to Life Experiences, Other Texts, or Prior Knowledge
Word-Attack Strategies

I don’t use any reading strategies when reading in foreign languages. In my experience, these techniques are used when students are reading texts that:

  • they did not choose
  • are a little too difficult for them
  • they are going to only have the chance to read once
  • they will not be able to use a dictionary or grammar reference with
  • they will have to do further activities with

I also think that these techniques are a way to use up class time. If, as a teacher, you just tell students to read for 45 minutes, they’ll get upset because they can do that at home. If it’s a high school, then of course it’s different because the students are not paying customers who have the option of quitting your school and studying on their own.

It’s also a way to work a lot of speaking and interacting into a reading lesson. I certainly agree that the pressure to keep students speaking and interacting tends to result in them doing far too little reading.

If the students read what they want, it will be more interesting for them and they will get an emotional response from reading the text. That way they’ll remember words and sentences a whole lot more and there will be significant improvement.If they teach “strategies” it will all end up like study and they’ll become bored easily.


Yes, that’s true. I think teaching reading strategies is largely a make-work project for teachers. And I say that as a teacher.

Well, I speed-read, so that I can look up articles on the internet while talking with a student. I must at some point have learned strategies for glancing at a page of material and judging whether it is what I was looking for. I think it may be called “looking at the pictures and guessing what the writing is about”. Maybe a teacher taught it to me, but if so it was in infant school.

Oh…yeah, and the point of that was: I have noticed that many students don’t seem to have acquired this skill.

I say: “Oh look, I’ve just found an article about Johnny Depp’s underwear, I’ll just send you the link while we’re talking” and they are thrown. They say “Do you want me to stop talking about celebrity pants and read this article then?”

To me it’s obvious, you take a quick look at the article, you say “Ah how interesting, I didn’tknow that Depp wears boxers,” and then carry on with your conversation. Maybe it would help those students if I threw in an exercise on guessing content from looking at the pictures?