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June 2022 - Year 24 - Issue 3

ISSN 1755-9715

Self-help Books to Master Reading Strategies

G. Sandhiya Devi, MPhil, is a research scholar at the Department of English at Sri Sivasubramaniya Nadar College of Engineering, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India 603110. She is a research scholar, working with Dr Divya John, Research Supervisor. She has 14 years of teaching experience and presented papers in 4 national and international conferences on ELT. They have jointly published a paper in IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication.

Dr Divya John, PhD, is associate professor at the Department of English at Sri Sivasubramaniya Nadar College of Engineering, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India 603110. She has 17 years of experience and presented papers in 31 national and international conferences on ELT. She has 22 publications on ELT and Literature in national and international journals.  Email:



Reading skill has not been imparted to learners at any stage in their lives more so at the undergraduate phase. Tertiary-level teachers assume that students have been introduced to reading adequately at school and hence tend to pass over the skill. Consequently, engineering students encounter several difficulties in reading and comprehending their subjects. Realizing the need to give the skill sufficient significance, this article attempts to give tips to teachers on how to teach students the strategies of reading -- skimming, scanning, intensive reading and extensive reading explicitly -- so as to enable them to read and understand a text to all intents and purposes. Accordingly, the study designs four activities for each of the four reading strategies under the labels: “pre-” activity, “while-” activity, “post-” activity and “follow-up” activity. The paper shows that practice in the reading strategies can foster a positive change in advancing the learners’ reading skills.



It is essential for undergraduate students to learn how to read their academic materials so that they would comprehend their subjects and other reading materials effortlessly in future. Reading skill involves a complex set of mental processes that students can acquire from practice especially with the guidance of dedicated teachers. Students can become successful in imbibing the reading skill if exposed to the reading strategies -- skimming, scanning, intensive reading and extensive reading.

The current paper is based on the hypothesis that designing reading activities based on a text can enable learners to understand the text better, evaluate it and arrive at logical conclusions. The investigation revolves on the research question: How can the explicit teaching of reading strategies improve the reading skills of the learners?


Literature review

Learners do not have sufficient exposure to reading skills at school; as a result, they end up poor performers in reading comprehension. Experts believe that reading skills can be honed by reading strategies -- skimming, scanning, intensive reading and extensive reading. Grellet (2008) says reading skills empower the learner to reject the irrelevant details in the text and comprehend its information. Anderson (2008) states that the explicit teaching of reading strategies will develop reading skills effectively. Intensive reading, with instructions on strategies and skills, has shown a positive effect on second language learning; similarly strategic instructions can be applied to extensive reading also to reach out to larger texts in the academic setting (Carell & Carson, 1997). Engineering students must be introduced to proper reading strategies (Pritchard and Nasr, 2004). Raising metacognitive awareness can enhance learners' reading processes and reading strategies; proficient readers naturally employ metacognitive strategies based on the purpose of reading (Spector-Cohen et al., 2001).

A text can be completely utilized if reading activities are based on it, and the students encouraged to express their ideas and feelings about it; it also requires a teacher’s considerable effort to design well-planned activities, the success of which will depend on the instructions given (Harmer, 2007). To help students, who are not college-ready, to cope with academic reading, Hirano (2015) stresses the importance of the teacher’s role in giving strategy-instructions. Park (2016) asserts that an extensive reading approach can enhance writing in academic contexts. Watkins (2017) argues that conscious strategy instruction, given repeatedly and successfully, may eventually become a skill that is applied without conscious effort. This article suggests reading activities that can be carried out inside and outside the classroom to develop the learners’ reading skills.


Designed activities

The study recommends teaching explicitly the four strategies of reading -- skimming, scanning, intensive reading and extensive reading – by designing activities like “pre-”, “while-”, “post-” and “follow-up” for the strategies based on Shiv Khera’s self-help book, You Can Win. For most of the activities, group work is suggested; the teacher divides the class of 60 students into 10 groups of 6 each.



The teacher introduces skimming: the rapid reading of a text to find out its general content or central ideas. The material used is Chapter I of You Can Win -- “Importance of Attitude: Building a Positive Attitude.”  

Pre-skimming Activity: The teacher introduces You Can Win, posing a few questions like, “Who all have inspired you in life?” “Have you been inspired by any book?”

While-skimming Activity: Each group is given a photocopy of Chapter I and asked to skim the text by reading the headings, sub-headings, the first sentence and last sentence of each paragraph in the chapter.

Post-skimming Activity: The teacher distributes “Post-skimming Activity -- Worksheet 1” to the groups:


Post-skimming Activity -- Worksheet 1

Skim the text of Chapter I, “Importance of Attitude” and tick the best of the following options:

  1. Can a person be a good student without having one of the following?
  1. An exposure to reading
  2. Any training at the school level
  3. A good attitude
  4. A deep learning
  1. What is the moral of the story “Acres of Diamonds”?
  1. We should wait for the opportunity
  2. We should realize the opportunities that knock at our door
  3. A right decision at the wrong time
  4. Wait to grab the opportunity of others
  1. What does the abbreviation “TQP” stands for?
  1. Total Quality Product
  2. Total Quality People
  3. Time Quantity Profit
  4. Task Quality Produce
  1. What are the factors that form our attitude?
  1. Education, Estimation, Evaluation
  2. Environment, Experience, E-learning
  3. Education, Enthusiasm, Effort
  4. Environment, Experience, Education
  1. Why are some organizations more successful than others?
  1. They invest in people as their most valuable asset
  2. They provide home loans
  3. They offer incentives and perks
  4. They have a very tight schedule


Answer key

The answers are discussed: 1- c, 2 - b, 3 - b, 4 - d, 5 – a.

The Follow-up Activity: The students speak for two minutes on one of the following topics:

  • The balloon story and “attitude leads to success”
  • The morals of the story “Acres of Diamonds”
  • David and Goliath and “the importance of attitude”
  • The characteristics of “Total Quality People”
  • A holistic approach to life
  • The factors that determine your attitude



The teacher introduces scanning: reading to derive specific information from a text. The text used is Chapter 2 of You Can Win, “How to Build a Positive Attitude.”

Pre-scanning Activity: Each group is given a photocopy of Chapter 2 and requested to skim (not scan) the chapter to find out the gist of the text.

While-scanning Activity: The students scan the text thoroughly.

Post-scanning Activity: The teacher distributes “Post-scanning Activity -- Worksheet 2” to the groups to answer a few specific questions based on Chapter 2.



Post-scanning Activity -- Worksheet 2

Read the following questions in Column A and match them with the responses in Column B

Column A                                                                                        

  1. What do we need to focus to become a seeker of Good?
  2. How to cultivate “the habit of doing it now”?
  3. How does a true education influence us?
  4. What does a university need to teach people according to Winston Churchill?
  5. What is the moral of the story “Sharpen Your Axe”?

Column B

  1. The first duty of a university is to teach wisdom, not trade or technicalities.
  2.  A true education will train both the head and the heart.  Intellectual education influences the head and value-based education influences the heart. 
  3. Our sixth sense is the common sense which is like an axe and that should be sharpened continuously. An abundance of common sense is called wisdom.
  4. You need to focus on the positive side in your life. Start looking for what is right in a person or situation instead of looking for the wrong one.
  5. The habit of procrastination fatigues one more than the effort one takes to do it. One must build a positive attitude by living in the present and doing it now.



Answer Key

The answers are discussed: 1- d, 2 - e, 3 - b, 4 - a, 5 – c.

The Follow-up Activity: The students (group-wise) narrate one of the following stories to derive its specific message.

  • Andrew Carnegie’s dealing with people
  • The hunter and his bird dog
  • The man who sold hotdogs
  • The animal school in the forest
  • John the woodcutter and his boss
  • The first jail inmate’s decision


Intensive reading

The teacher introduces the concept of intensive reading: reading a passage, word by word, to arrive at a thorough understanding of the text. The text used is Chapter 3 of You Can Win, “Success: Winning Strategies.”


Pre-intensive reading: Each group is given a copy of Chapter 3 for a thorough reading.

While-intensive reading: One student reads out the text; the others listen; the teacher conducts an open discussion to assess their level of understanding.

Post-intensive reading: The students summarise the chapter orally group by group.

The Follow-up Activity: The students write a note on one of the following topics:

  1. The ten qualities that make a person successful
  2. Your goals to achieve success
  3. Overcoming your failures


Extensive reading

The teacher introduces the concept of extensive reading: reading the whole book, You Can Win, for pleasure during leisure time.

Pre-extensive reading: The teacher motivates the students to read the whole book, You Can Win, and monitors the progress of those who read.

While-extensive reading: The teacher instructs the students to list new words and check the meaning.

Post-extensive reading: The students who complete reading the text write a review of the book in 200 words.

The Follow-up Activity: The teacher conducts a debate on a topic chosen from the text.


Discussion and the feedback from the students

The students’ feedback is given here with some minor corrections for obvious reasons. Some students agreed that skimming aroused their interest in reading and though they encountered new words, they could understand the gist conveyed roughly. One student echoed the general impression: “Reading is no more a challenge for us. Now we know how to figure out the main points in a text.” As for scanning, many students vouched that their level of comprehending the text improved quite a lot; they were confident to extract the main ideas and develop those ideas logically. Another student admitted that deriving the specific message of the text was not a big deal for them for they knew how to grasp the points though they lacked the command of the English language to express themselves adequately. The students agreed that the exercise on intensive-reading would help them comprehend the relevant points in other texts too. Yet another said, “I think now we will be able to learn other subjects also without difficulty.” However, the extensive reading activities based on the whole text, You Can Win, received very weak response. Students refused to read, giving some reason or the other politely. One student’s apology for not reading the whole book seemed a common explanation, “I did not have time to read because the exams were approaching.”

Nevertheless, most students were grateful for being introduced to the activities of skimming, scanning and intensive reading. One of them said, “We are happy to be introduced to You Can Win. This has opened our eyes to motivational self-help books.” When asked which of the strategies they would use in future, they rightly said they would use all the strategies according to the requirement. The best part of the feedback was one student’s summing up, “Each reading strategy has its own purpose.”



The present article is to help teachers to instruct students in reading strategies such as skimming, scanning, intensive reading and extensive reading so as to influence their reading skills. Using Shiv Khera’s You Can Win as the text, the paper introduces the four strategies of reading, each strategy accompanied by stages like: a “pre-” activity, “while-” activity, “post-” activity and “follow-up” activity. Exercises based on the text were given to the learners to train them in the concepts of reading. Miniature tests were also included to check whether the students were able to grasp the concepts. The article shows that practice in challenging and pleasurable activities can motivate the learners’ reading skills.



Anderson, Neil J. (2008). Practical English Language Teaching: Reading. In David Nunan (Ed). New York: McGraw Hill.

Carrell, P. L., & Carson, J. G. (1997). Extensive and intensive reading in an EAP setting. English for specific purposes, 16(1), 47-60.

Grellet, Francoise. (2008). Developing Reading Skills: A practical guide to reading comprehension exercises. New York: Cambridge University Press. 

Harmer, Jeremy. (2007). How to teach English. London: Pearson Education Limited.

Hirano, E. (2015). ‘I read, I don’t understand’: refugees coping with academic reading. ELT journal, 69(2), 178-187

Khera, Shiv. (1994). You Can Win. USA: The Economic Press.

Park, J. (2016). Integrating reading and writing through extensive reading. Elt Journal, 70(3), 287-295.

Pritchard, R. M., & Nasr, A. (2004). Improving reading performance among Egyptian engineering students: principles and practice. English for Specific Purposes, 23(4), 425-445.

Spector-Cohen, E., Kirschner, M., & Wexler, C. (2001). Designing EAP reading courses at the university level. English for Specific Purposes, 20(4), 367-386.

Watkins, P. (2017). Teaching and Developing Reading Skills: Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers. Cambridge University Press.


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Tagged  Various Articles 
  • Self-help Books to Master Reading Strategies
    G. Sandhiya Devi, India;Divya John, India