Improving Reading Ability

There are some aspects that must be mastered by the English students in improving their ability in reading. These aspects will help the students in understanding texts or even passages. While studying Reading 1, Reading 2, and Reading 3, the students are actually trained to master some important aspects of text. For instance, topic, main idea, heads, etc.


Clues to Finding the Main Idea in Textbooks and Articles

1.  Titles, heads, and subheads. These announce major subjects and ideas in boldface type.

2.  Purpose sentence. Look for a sentence in the first paragraphs of a book, chapter, or article that states what the rest of the text will be about.

3.  Pre-outline. Look for sentences listing the ideas that will be developed in the coming paragraphs.

4.  Topic Sentence. Recognize the sentences in paragraphs and sections of material that state the subject and focus of the rest of the discussion.

5.  Italics. Sometimes main ideas appear in italics as well as boldface type to make them stand out from the rest of the text.

6.  Repetition. Repetition of a key word or idea throughout a text is a signal that it is a major topic in the discussion.

7.  Questions. Questions invite readers to look for answers, and the answer is often one of the major ideas being developed.

8.  Numbering. Ideas that are numbered are important. Either write them or make them into a mental list and put a label or title at the top.

9.  Visuals. Pictures, graphs, diagrams, figures, and other materials are often used to highlight and emphasize main ideas. Study them carefully.

10.  Details. The use of examples, statistics, and other details always signals a main idea is being clarified, proved, or developed. Look back or ahead and discover the idea.

11.  Organizational Patterns. The major parts of the pattern, such as the topics, the divisions in time, the two objects being compared, the cause and the effect, or the problem and the solution are the main ideas. Recognize the pattern and look for the ideas.

12.  Summary. Summaries restate the main ideas in brief form.


Adapted from College Reading and Study Skills, Nancy V. Wood, 1996

Next: Paragraph Pattern

Organizational Patterns of Paragraphs

The basic unit of thought

Perhaps one of the best ways to improve your reading ability is to learn to read paragraphs effectively. Many experts believe the paragraph, not the sentence, is the basic unit of thought of a selection. If one can quickly grasp the meaning of each of these though units while reading, then comprehension will be heightened.

It is important to identify with the author’s perspective by discovering the way the message is being sent. Every writer has a purpose for writing and some plan of action for getting a message across. This plan of action is the order in which the material will be presented in the text. This order, often called a pattern of organization, should be present in acceptable writing from the smallest to the largest unit of writing: the paragraph, groups of paragraphs, subchapters, chapters, groups of chapters, whole books, and even series of books. Each of these, then, contains a certain pattern of organization.

Anticipating the order in which the material will be presented helps you put the facts into perspective and to see how the parts fit into the whole. For example, if the selection begins by indicating that there are four important components of management, you are alert to look for four key phrases to mark and remember. Likewise, if a comparison is suggested, you want to note the points that are similar in nature. For material that shows cause and effect, you need to anticipate the linkage and note the relationship.

The importance of these patterns is that they signal how the facts will be presented. They are blueprints for you to use.

In textbook reading the number of details can be overwhelming. The mind responds to logical patterns; relating the small parts to the whole simplifies complexities of the material and makes remembering easier.

Although key signal words help in identifying the particular type of pattern, a single paragraph can be a mixture of different patterns. Your aim is to anticipate the overall pattern and then place the facts into a broad perspective.
The following six examples are the patterns of organization that are most frequently found in textbooks.


Simple Listing

Items are randomly listed in a series of supporting facts or details. These supporting elements are of equal value, and the order in which they are presented is of no importance. Changing the order of the items does not change the meaning of the paragraph.

Signal words often used for simple listing are:

·     in addition

·     several

·     also

·     for example

·     another

·     a number of



Description is like listing; the characters that make up a description are no more than a simple listing of details.



Frequently in textbook reading an entire paragraph is devoted to defining a complex term or idea. The concept is initially defined and then further expanded with examples and restatements.

Signal words used for definition are:

·     is defined as

·     is called

·     means

·     refers to

·     is described as

·     term or concept


Chronological (Time) Order or Sequence

Items are listed in the order in which they occurred or in a specifically planned order in which they must develop. In this case, the order is important and changing it would change the meaning.

Signal words often used for chronological order or sequence are:

·     first, second, third

·     until etc.

·     al last

·     before, after

·     next

·     when

·     later


Comparison – Contrast

Items are related by the comparisons (similarities) that are made or by the contrasts (differences) that are presented. The author’s purpose is to show similarities and differences.

Signal words often used for comparison-contrast are:

·     similar, different

·     bigger than, smaller

·     on the other hand

·     than

·     but

·     in the same way

·     however

·     parallels


Cause and Effect

In this pattern, one item is showed as having produced another element. An event (effect) is said to have happened because of some situation or circumstance (cause). The cause (the action) stimulates the event, or effect (the outcome).

Signal words often used for cause and effect are:

·     for this reason

·     hence

·     consequently

·     because

·     on that account

·     made


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