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Module One | Describing language and language skills

Reading: a receptive skill


In the box below are given six ways of reading listed A – F. Read questions 1-5 and match them with the answers from the box. There is one extra answer in the box which is not necessary.

Ways of reading

A reading for specific information

B extensive reading

C deducing meaning from context

D intensive reading

E reading for gist

F reading for detail

  1. Find every word you can find in the story about butterflies.
  2. Read the text carefully and figure out which heading is the most matching for it.
  3. Read the article carefully to find the exact information about how machinery work.
  4. Finish reading the novel while you are at home.
  5. Read a poster to find out on which dates Kate’s, Jill’s and Tom’s birthdays are.

Reading, one of the four language skills: listening, reading, writing and speaking, is a receptive skill, which is similar to listening. We use reading to make sense of text. For this, it is necessary to be able to understand the language of the text at word level, sentence level and whole text level. To understand sentences, we must be able to understand the letters, how they are grouped together to make up words, the meaning and grammar of the words  and the sentence. Read the sentence below:

The cat was surprised because the dog was much more intelligent than him.

We can also understand this sentence because we know that generally, cats are more intelligent than dogs. Therefore, because we know this, it helps us to understand why the cat was surprised. Therefore, we must also connect what we read to our knowledge of the real world. This helps us to understand more.  

Reading: why some learners find it difficult


Sometimes, students find reading to be a difficult thing to learn. Can you imagine why?

A text is more than a word or sentences. Usually, text consists of many sentences. For example, a letter, a postcard or even a paragraph from this text. The sentences are connected by grammar and vocabulary and sometimes even with knowledge of the world. Reading means understanding these connections, e.g. The boy was amazed at what a good dancer the girl was. Then he discovered that her mother was a famous dancer and had won many awards for her talent.

The sentence about the girl’s mother gives us the probably reason why the girl was so good at dancing. However, we can understand this reason for it because we know that people are given awards for things they are very good at. Therefore, we are using our knowledge of the world to see coherence (connection)between these sentences. The cohesion (grammatical links that are between the sentences) also aid us in seeing the connection between the sentences.     

Reading: types of reading

reading2 (1)

Normally, when we read something we don’t read every single word in the text. For example, if we read an article on a website about florists to find out about different types of flowers and their prices. However, we would read a novel or an interesting story book very carefully taking in every detail because the story and the characters interest us and make us want to know as much as possible about them. Therefore, we select what we read depending on why and how we want to read. People read all kinds of texts for all kinds of reasons. Some examples are given below:

  1. Letters
  2. Articles
  3. Postcards
  4. Stories
  5. Information
  6. Brochures
  7. Leaflets
  8. Poems

The above are all different types of texts with dissimilar lengths, layouts, topics and language types. To learn to read, we must learn to handle these different types of text.  

Everybody has different reasons for reading. These reasons effect how we read. This means which reading subskill, which is a section of a main skill, that we use. If we read a text to find a particular piece of information in that text, we use reading for specific information which is also a subskill. Another word for this is scanning. We do not read the entire text when we are scanning. We rush over the most part of it till we find what we were looking for. For example, we do this when we are searching for a telephone number in the directory or a specific item on a list.

Reading for gist is another subskill also known as  skimming. This means when we are reading something quickly to obtain an idea of what the entire text is about, e.g. when we look quickly through a book in a library to decide whether or not we want to borrow it.

Another reading subskill is reading for detail. This means reading every detail carefully and extracting the meaning out of every single word. For example, we would do this when we receive a card from someone we care about .

Extensive reading is  another way of reading which involves reading long segments of text, e.g. a novel, article, story. Our attention and interest changes as we read. We may skim through what might seem boring or read in detail what may seem interesting and catches our attention.

Sometimes, we use texts and study aids to learn language, e.g. if we ask our students to search for particular words in a text related to a certain topic or ask them to study the grammar of a specific sentence. This is called intensive reading  and helps to make students understand how the language is used. They are not reading skills but activities to learn language.      

Therefore, reading is complicated because it requires good understanding of letters, words and sentences. Readers must also be able to understand coherence and cohesion. They must be able to make sense of the text using their knowledge of the world and the proper reading subskills.


Nerd baby says ...​

For those who can read text in their language, it is possible to transfer their reading skills to reading in English. This can be difficult once in a while, if the level of their language is not high enough for then they will need assistance with transferring these language skills. It is up to the teachers to test and find which reading sub-skills their students have mastered and then focus on revising and further studying the skills which they are not using well enough. Sometimes it is essential to teach them language to help them to learn the subskills.

To help learners to improve their reading fluency, learners should be given numerous chances to read as much as possible both in class and out of class.

Teaching reading sub-skills depend on the age and the first language of the student. Sometimes, there may be students who haven’t yet learned to read in their own language but are learning English. It is important for them to learn to connection letters in order to create words and they should also learn how written words relate to spoken words in their language as well as in English. Some students might not be able to understand the script which is used in English because it is dissimilar to their own script. For example, Chinese, Egyptian, Arabic. Students who have this problem need to learn the English script. Sometimes, they may also have to learn how to read a page from left to right.

The texts that we choose for our students to study should be chosen carefully and in the right way. They should not be too difficult or the student will lose interest in them. If the text has much too complicated language or is about a topic that the students have no clue about, it will be too difficult for the student. Texts should be enjoyable enough for the students because this will help them to be motivated and inspired.

Text which is too difficult can be made easier for students to read and understand. This can be done by giving the students a simple comprehension task. Therefore, the difficulty of the text can be managed by the difficulty level of the comprehension task given to the students.

There are texts that are written separately or made easier for students who are studying languages. Students may be asked to read these at times. They may also read articles, brochures, story books, novels… or any other text written in simple language (this is called authentic material).The language in these kinds of reading material are sometimes better than the language in texts that have been simplified. According to experts, students who read simplified as well as authentic material learn the best.

Various comprehension tasks and activities for reading can focus on separate reading subskills. It is up to the teacher to distinguish which task focuses on which subskill.

Teachers must choose the comprehension tasks with great care as they should be the right level of difficulty and the student should be able to practice the reading subskills matching to that task.

Normally, reading activities look like this:
(a) Introductory activities: there is an introduction given to explain what the text is about and then come activities which focus on the language in which the text is written.
(b) Main activities: a collection of comprehension activities which are created to develop separate reading subskills.
(c) Post-activities: these are activities created to encourage the students to talk about a topic in the text and how this topic relates to the students’ own lives. Students will also be asked to give their ideas on certain parts of the text. Doing activities like these makes learners use at least a little of the language that they have come across in the text.

Test Your Knowledge

Given below is an article about food in the United States of America. There are some activities too. In your opinion, what is the purpose of each activity? Some aims have been given in the box. Try to match the activities with the aim. There is an extra aim which does not need to be used.

To relate the content of the text to our knowledge of the world             

To practise skimming

To introduce the topic                   

To practise reading for particular information


  1. Do people in your country eat mostly at home or do they prefer to eat out? What is most preferred?
  2. Are there many diverse food types in your country? If so, what are those types?

The article:

In the United States of America, there are so many different types of food. The most favourite is fast food, e.g. hamburgers, hot dogs, short eats. Since the U.S is a very multicultural country, all kinds of foods from almost everywhere in the world and there are over hundreds of restaurants in the country. This makes it a very good place for someone who enjoys trying different foods. It is possible to find foods like sushi, tacos, pasta, nandos all from their respective restaurants. However, the most popular food in the U.S is Pizza.

Although pizza originated in Italy, it is a major favourite in the U.S. You can find it anywhere in the country. There are over 50,000 pizzerias which makes up about 17%  of the all the restaurants in the U.S. There are more, and more opening up all over the country rapidly.

In the U.S, it is possible to find food no matter what kind of food you like, and no matter what kind of budget you are on. A hot dog from the street would cost a dollar or two whereas a dinner in a four-star restaurant would cost about $200. Whatever the price or the type of food you are after, you can find it in the U.S.

————————————- The end of the article ——————————

  1. Now, go through the article again and fill the blanks below with the relevant information.
    1. How many different restaurant types are there in the U.S? ____________________
    2. What is the price of a meal at a very good restaurant? ____________________
    3. How much does a hot dog cost?                     ____________________
    4. Roughly how many pizzerias are existent in the U.S? ____________________
  2. Think about the food types in your own country and write down a menu that someone from your country would typically go for. Write down all three meals, breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Do you enjoy reading in English? Think about what the easiest and hardest things are for you when reading in English.

When you were still learning English, what aided you to learn reading well?

Talk with a friend and discuss your opinions about books or magazines that you have read and enjoyed in English.

Teach a reading lesson to somebody (perhaps a friend). Get feedback for your lesson. Find out what worked well about your teaching and what didn’t. Write a note of what you plan to do in order to make the lesson better the next time you teach it.

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