Reading Strategies


Learning Objectives

  • identify rhetorical context of a text (purpose, author, audience)
  • identify previewing as a reading strategy
  • identify active reading as a reading strategy
  • identify summarizing as a reading strategy
  • identify reviewing as a reading strategy

Months after he was born, in 1948, Ron McCallum became blind. In this charming, moving talk, he shows how he is able to read — and celebrates the progression of clever tools and adaptive computer technologies that make it possible.

While most of us don’t have the same issues with accessing reading material that McCallum does, many of us can benefit from some of the same strategies he uses.

This section focuses on strategies to make reading a more meaningful process.  Some of these strategies incorporate technology, while others just rely on a set of practices that become stronger over time.


The technique of scanning is a useful one to use if you want to get an overview of the text you are reading as a whole – its shape, the focus of each section, the topics or key issues that are dealt with, and so on. In order to scan a piece of text you might look for sub-headings or identify key words and phrases which give you clues about its focus. Another useful method is to read the first sentence or two of each paragraph in order to get the general gist of the discussion and the way that it progresses.

Photo of a hand holding a pen over an open bookScanning is used to find a particular piece of information. Run your eyes over the text looking for the specific piece of information you need. If you see words or phrases that you don’t understand, don’t worry when scanning.

Scanning is what you do to find an answer to a specific question. You may run your eyes quickly down the page in a zigzag or winding S pattern. If you are looking for a name, you note capital letters. For a date, you look for numbers. Vocabulary words may be boldfaced or italicized. When you scan for information, you read only what is needed.

Rhetorical Context

We’re used to the idea of learning things from what we read.  It’s important to realize that we can learn a bit by looking at factors that are outside of a text, as well.


Drawing of a person sitting in a chair, newspaper in front of his faceSkimming is used to quickly gather the most important information, or “gist.” Run your eyes over the text, noting important information. Use skimming to quickly get up to speed on a current business situation. It’s not essential to understand each word when skimming.

Skimming is covering the chapter to get some of the main ideas and a general overview of the material. It is what you do first when reading a chapter assignment. You don’t read for details at this point.

Here is how you skim a chapter:

  1. Read the first paragraph of the chapter line by line. 
  2. Next, read all the bold print headings starting at the beginning.
  3. Read the first sentence of every paragraph.
  4. Study any pictures, graphs, charts, and maps.
  5. Finally, read the last paragraph of the chapter.

As you skim, you could write down the main ideas and develop a chapter outline.


SQ3R is a useful technique for understanding written information. It helps you to create a good mental framework of a subject, into which you can fit the right facts. It helps you to set study goals and prompts you to use review techniques that will help you to remember.

The acronym SQ3R stands for the five sequential techniques you should use to read a book: Survey, Question, Read, Recite and Review.

Phase Description
Survey (S) Scan the entire assignment to get an overview of the material. Read the headings to see the major points. Read the introductory paragraphs and the summary at the end of the chapter. Do not forget to look at the tables, pictures, etc. Remember, you are scanning the material and not actually reading every sentence.
Question (Q) Make questions that can be answered during the reading of the material. This will give a purpose to your reading. Take a heading and turn it into a question. For example, if a heading in a chapter about Cell Division is in your biology text, make a question by turning the title around: “How does cell division occur?” or “How many steps are involved in cell division?”
Read (R)  Now you read the material trying to find answers to your questions. This is a careful reading, line by line. You may want to take notes or make flashcards.
Recite (R) As you read, look away from your book and notes and try to answer your questions. This checks your learning and helps put that information in your memory.
Review (R) To check your memory, scan portions of the material or your notes to verify your answers. Review the material and note the main points under each heading. This review step helps you retain the material.

What SQ3R Looks Like

This video demonstrates the SQ3R process in action.

High-5 Reading Strategies

Click through following presentation to learn about a 5-step process for deeper reading comprehension and retention.