So Your Students Aren't Reading!?

Choosing Reading Strategies


Student Guide to Academic Reading

Academic Reading/Writing Activities

U. of Southampton Resources

Critical Thinking Community

Critical Literacy

Workbook Academic Reading
with self-audits

A Guide to Reading & Analyzing Academic Articles

Teaching Resources

How to Read an Academic Article

PSU iStudy Module on Active Reading

student reading

Effective and Efficient!

Imagine... hoards of eager freshmen arrive on campus in late August. They get their books and head off to their first week of classes. After getting the syllabi and the first week's assignments, they run to the cafeteria to compare experiences with friends. So far so good, right?! 

Now skip ahead a few days...

It is the evening before the second class of the semester and they have just sat down to read the 3 chapters assigned for tomorrow's discussion. iPods plugged in, they crack the book and begin to read. Within about 15 seconds, a glazed look overtakes them and they realize this might take a little longer than expected. An hour later and they haven't made much progress. They keep re-reading the same section, but it still isn't sinking in.  So they just plug along and eventually get through the first chapter. It's done, but what did they learn from it? Realizing that it is now late, they head off to bed, thinking they can catch up in the morning before class.

Next day in class, the professor starts the discussion, and a pall comes over the room... What happened?

Students come to college clearly surprised by the sheer amount of reading that is required. Additionally, they don't come equipped with the skills needed to tackle difficult academic texts. What strategies and support do students need to read both efficiently and effectively?


We know that we don't read everything in the same way with the same attention to detail. Some reading activities require deep attention, and others don't, but students don't always know this. They go about reading in the exact same manner, no matter the goal.

Here are some strategies that you can model and suggest when assigning reading that will help students to be more efficient and effective in their reading..

1) Skimming - getting the gist of something, getting a broad overview. This involves looking at chapter and section headings, reading the first sentences in paragraphs, summary sections, or the first and last paragraphs of the chapter. Readers should be ignoring details and reading just for the main ideas.

2) Scanning - looking through a text for specific information. Think of the way you look up a phone number in the phone book. You look in a very focused way for specific pieces of information, ignoring everything else so you can quickly find the info you are looking for.

3) Surveying - this strategy is great at the beginning of a semester, or when students are gathering materials for research papers. Students look broadly at the text, its table of contents, the index and bibliography, any abstract information available, introductions, forewords, or reviewer's comments in order to get a general idea of the scope and purpose of the text.

4) Detailed Reading - actively reading in great detail to learn new material. This is covered in more detail in the next section, Reading to Learn.

You can suggest any or a combination of several of these as you assign reading to students. Think about the goal of the reading assignment and coach students by modeling the way you would tackle the assignment you have given them.

Gillett, A. Using English for Academic Purposes. Retrieved July 18, 2007, from Using English for Academic Purposes Web site:

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1) Let students know the purpose of the reading. What will they have to do with the information?

Giving students the purpose for the reading allows them to read strategically and with a focus

2) Do some pre-reading activities with your students. Review any important, new, or difficult vocabulary words that are going to appear. Give an overview of the reading or a concept map to provide a framework for the reading.

3) Explain to students the relevance of the reading. This reading is important because it...

4) Give students an opportunity to practice the different strategies listed above. Suggest appropriate strategies for different reading assignments until students can make the connection for themselves. Not all reading assignments require our full and deep attention. If skimming will do the trick, then suggest it.


Motivation - > Gap -> Strategies - >Reading to Learn

Now let's take a look at what's involved in reading to learn independently, a major leap for many college students.

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