Getting Started with Reading Skills

Before You Read

Discuss the following questions with a classmate.

  1. What makes reading for class difficult?
  2. What are some strategies you use to make reading or understand course materials easier?
  3. Why is reading course materials important?

Annotating While You Read

As you approach higher levels of English, you will be required to read longer readings. As the readings get longer and more complicated, it will become more difficult to remember all the important information from them. Also, these readings might be later used on tests or when writing an essay. Thus, you should make sure you understand the readings and are able to remember important ideas and main topics from them.

One of the best ways to do this is to take notes about what you read. Some students highlight main ideas, but research has shown that students usually highlight too much and it doesn’t help them remember information as well as annotating does. The most helpful way to do this is by either writing notes in the margins of the page or putting small sticky notes of key information near the text. Your notes should be summaries or paraphrases of main ideas or sub-points. Your notes do not need to be complete sentences or have perfect grammar–nor do they need to be in English, if you prefer taking notes in your first language. Your notes are for you, so make sure you write them in a way that “future you” will remember what “past you” wants you to remember.

However, there are other things you should make a note of. Other than main ideas, take notes where you have questions. Is there something that doesn’t make sense that you might want to ask the teacher about later? Is there a vocabulary word you want to look up in the dictionary later?

In addition, it is helpful to write down notes of things you are thinking about while you read. These ideas can help you connect to the reading better, and might be useful for future essay topics. Maybe what you are reading is similar to something else you have read, or it reminds you of something in your past. Making a personal connection with the text and making a note of it can help you remember that information later.

This kind of note-taking can be useful for any class with readings. As we learned in the previous section, there are different kinds of readings, and so the way to read it and take notes will be different depending on the purpose of the reading.

For literature, take notes on:

  • new and key vocabulary (but don’t use a dictionary for every new word you encounter)
  • main characters and their actions
  • important events: use the plot structure chart for help
  • your personal reaction to the events and characters
  • what you feel is the takeaway of the story
  • how you connect the events of the story with another text or personal knowledge
  • any parts that are difficult to understand

For articles, note:

  • new and key vocabulary (but don’t use a dictionary for every new word you encounter)
  • the purpose–the writer’s goal of the article
  • how the article is organized
  • main ideas and arguments: what is the author’s message? How do they try to convince you?
  • evidence for their arguments
  • the author’s tone: are they trying to be funny? Do they sound angry?
  • do you agree or disagree with the author? Why?
  • did it make you think of other questions?
  • your opinion or reaction to the information in the article
  • your connections of the information from the article to another text or personal knowledge
  • any parts that are difficult to understand

Another important point is to focus on and be able to understand and identify main ideas. Your entire margin should NOT be filled with notes! (Unless maybe you have huge handwriting.) Don’t take notes WHILE you are reading a paragraph. Read one paragraph, and then think about what was important in that paragraph. Sometimes, there’s not really anything important in each paragraph, but still finish reading a paragraph first, and then decide what to take note of.

It’s a good idea to keep your notes as close as possible to the original text, so you can review the original reading alongside your notes and ideas. Write in the margin next to the text or write your notes on sticky notes and attach them close to the original information on the page. Or you could fold a piece of notebook paper in half and take notes for the left page of the book on the left side and take notes for the right page on the right side of the notebook paper.

A book opened with sticky notes with writing on them attached to a page..
Example of annotations. Photo by Charity Davenport, $\ccbysa$


Lastly, your notes will not be helpful unless you review them later. You should review your notes before class discussions of the readings and when you have tests. It will make it much easier to study and write your essays!

Here is an example of a reading with annotations. Try making notes this term in your readings, review them and see how it will improve your comprehension and memory. They may take some time to make the notes, but it will save study time later.




CEFR Level: CEF Level B1



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It’s All Greek to Me! Copyright © 2018 by Charity Davenport is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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