ALMS Reading guide
A. How to use this guide
This guide is intended to help you to improve your skills
in reading. It tells you a little about the reading process and
about the strategies you can use to help you to become a more effective
reader of English. There are examples of how you can pick out aspects
of the text to help you, and how you can read for content in different
You could start by thinking about your own strategies when you
read, and deciding on your aims and objectives. Do this every time
you are reading for ALMS. Try to reflect during and after your work
on what you are doing, what your problems are and what you have
Choose your material carefully! If your aim is to develop your
vocabulary, take something with relevant subject matter and think
about the language before you start. If you are looking to lower
your anxiety about reading in English, you could try reading a novel
or short story.
When you are reading for content, try not to worry too much about
the language (e.g., difficult words). Focus on the key words.
B. The reading process
The reading process could be seen as interaction between
reader and text. Reading is a way of processing information where
the reader uses his/her knowledge of the world (culture, education,
personal experience) and of the subject in order to understand the
text. The reader also needs knowledge of the language in question
(linguistic competence), including knowledge of words (lexis), grammar
(syntax), text patterns and text types (conventions).
Reading also involves interpretation. You, as a student at Helsinki
University reading course books in English belong to a community
of Finnish students who are carrying out similar tasks. The writer
probably had a different audience in mind when he or she wrote the
book, and you may bring an interpretation to the text that he or
she never imagined.
Ideally, you as a reader are motivated to read and have a real
reading purpose (for an exam, for pleasure). The purpose determines
the strategies you use. Whatever the text, you have expectations
of the content, which may be based on the title (for the content),
the author (given your previous knowledge), the source, diagrams
and pictures. The active reader constantly makes predictions and
guesses, checks his/her understanding and asks questions. S/he also
draws conclusions about the content. The more you as a reader anticipate,
the less you will worry about the irrelevancies in the text.
Your reasons for reading will determine the strategies you use.
You probably read a newspaper and a course book in different ways.
Before you begin reading a course book, you could do some previewing
(or surveying): the title, the blurb, the table of contents, the
index, illustrations, prefaces, introductions, bibliographies and
acknowledgements all give you clues as to what you will find in
Our expectations about the text enable us to make predictions,
which in turn help us to interpret the meaning. The better we are
at predicting, the less dependent we are on the text itself. Good
readers read for meaning, and do not necessarily look at every sentence,
phrase or even word in the text.
Skimming (reading quickly to get the main idea) and scanning (looking
for specific pieces of information) are useful strategies, particularly
if you are used to reading everything in a foreign language word
by word. Both enable you to quickly go through the text without
paying attention to all parts of it. You will then be able to decide
if there is a reason for a more careful reading. This intensive
reading involves reading for detail and understanding the text at
all levels, and the writer's purpose.
Extensive reading means using any or all of these strategies depending
on your interests and needs.
D. Reading rate
Faster reading often increases the comprehension level, and is more
efficient. Try increasing your reading rate by timing yourself when
you read. Passages of between 500 and 1000 words are well suited
for this purpose. You might then ask yourself what the is text about
in order to check your understanding. You should notice an increase
in your reading rate over time.
E. Aspects of the text
You cannot read meaningfully unless you know the meaning of words.
However, it is often unnecessary to understand all the words in
a text in order to get the main points or to understand the text
as a whole. An essential reading skill is the ability to infer or
deduce the meaning of words from their place and function in the
sentence, or from the context. It is often enough to guess the general
meaning (e.g., negative or positive). Obviously, if you cannot understand
a key phrase or sentence, it is then necessary to use a dictionary.
It will help you if you know something about affixation, which
refers to the prefixes and suffixes used in English. This, combined
with your knowledge about inference, will enable you to deal more
successfully with unknown words.
Certain words and phrases, which we could call “signposts”,
also signal the meaning of a text. The writer uses them to organize
the text and to make his or her points clear. They are called link
words or semantic markers, and may be used:
- for listing: firstly, in the first place, secondly, thirdly; my
next point is, last, finally, in the end
- for cause and effect: so, therefore, because, as, since, thus
- for giving examples: for instance, for example, let's take...;
an example / instance of this is ...
- for relationships of contrast or comparison: but, nevertheless,
(and) yet, although, however, on the one hand / on the other hand
- for summing the message up: to summarise, in other words, it amounts
to this, if I can just sum up
- for relationships of time: then, next, after that, previously,
- for emphasis: especially, particularly, in particular, essentially,
it is worth noting, I would like to direct your attention to
- for re-phrasing or introducing a definition: in other words, that
is to say, let me put it this way, to put it another way
- for expressing a condition: if, in case, unless, assuming that
supposing that, provided that.
F. Reading for learning
Whenever it is possible, “mess around” with your text
as much as you can. Try one or more of the following:
- underline important terms and ideas in the text
- write notes in the margins as reminders of the main points and
- write short paraphrase statements of the key ideas in the margin
(use your own words)
- share your problems with your fellow students: talk about your
interpretations, try to find ways of explaining words and ideas
- try the SQ3R technique if you are fond of techniques and systematic
ways of doing things: skim, question, read, recall, review (five
phases for getting the meaning out of the text gradually). This
technique uses many of the ideas given above, and also includes
post-reading activities such as recalling and going back over the
main points. Review the text by skimming it and the notes you made
when you read it
- find various sources and texts that deal with the same topic,
and read them in order to memorize the details and vocabulary items.
If you are reading an original work, try to get hold of someone
else’s interpretation of it. Look for relevant texts in your
native language, or more simple material in English
- develop your mind-mapping techniques, either as a pre-reading,
sensitising exercise, or as a post-reading activity for reviewing
the main points, memorizing vocabulary or producing a summary
- combine reading and writing by summarising the text (in Finnish
Once you have chosen a text to read (using your skimming skills),
you could proceed by just reading the first sentences of each paragraph.
This will often be enough to give you an idea of the contents as
a whole, because English writers tend to use a paragraph structure
in which the first sentence is the topic sentence, or it is the
topic introducer and the second sentence is the topic sentence.
You may then not have to read all of the text. It is worth keeping
in mind that not all texts are organized in this way.
Kaija Ervola, Leena Karlsson, Felicity Kjisik, Joan Nordlund. December