Techniques for Improving Your Reading and Studying Skills

A Reading and Study System
a chapter correctly takes a lot more time than you probably spend now,
but try this SQ3R method for just one class. Slowly add this system into your
other classes too. Be patient and give this method 2 weeks to make a
difference. At first, you’ll spend a lot of time on this. Remember: You can
study a lot of hours over the course of the semester or you can study all of
those hours the week before your final.
time rule: 1 hour of class = 2 hours of study time!
reading method will seem slow at first, but the benefits will soon be clear:
You will remember more of what you read, and you won’t waste time repeating
work you’ve already done!




Do not
read the chapter yet! Do these steps first:
  1. Read the title – prepare your mind to
    study the subject.
  2. Read the introduction and/or summary –
    think about how this chapter fits the author’s purposes, and focus on the
    author’s statement of most important points.
  3. Quickly look over each boldface
    heading and subheading – organize your mind before you begin to read –
    build a structure for the thoughts and details to come.
  4. Look over any graphics, charts, maps,
    diagrams, etc. They are there to make a point – don’t miss them.
  5. Notice the reading aids – italics,
    and boldface print show that something is important
  6. Also, the chapter objective and the
    end-of-chapter questions are all included to help you sort, understand and
    remember the information.






Do not
read the chapter yet! Do these steps first:
questions from your reading to help your mind think about the material.
at each section at a time and turn the boldface headings into as many questions
as you think will be answered in that section. The better the questions, the
better your understanding will be. You may always add more questions as you
continue. When your mind is actively searching for answers to questions, it is
learning! This is also the best way to predict test questions – where do you
think your teachers think up questions?!
an example: if a heading says “Parts of the Flower,” you can make a
question like: “What are the parts of a flower?” “Historic
People” can be a question like “Name some historic people.”
up as many questions as you possibly can.


now it is time to read the chapter, but follow these steps:
you read, look for the answers to the questions you wrote, and write the
answers in your
each section of the chapter with your questions in mind. Look for the answers,
and take note of questions you didn’t think of that were answered in
that section.



As you
read the chapter, you should recite your notes.
Reciting means practicing out loud what
you’ve written down. Yes, that’s right – talk to yourself!
each section of reading, stop, think about your questions, and see if you can
answer them from memory. If not, look back again (as often as necessary) but
don’t go on to the next section until you can say what you have learned!



15 minutes every day reviewing your notes.
you’ve finished the entire chapter using the steps above, go back over all the
questions that you made. See if you can still answer them. If you cannot,
read the
chapter again, being careful to answer your own
We could not talk about vocabulary teaching nowadays
without mentioning Lewis (1993), whose controversial, thought-provoking ideas
have been shaking the ELT world since its publication. We do not intend to
offer a complete review of his work, but rather mention some of his
contributions that in our opinion can be readily used in the classroom. 
His most important contribution was to highlight the
importance of vocabulary as being basic to communication.  We do agree
that if learners do not recognise the meaning of keywords they will be unable
to participate in the conversation, even if they know the morphology and
syntax. On the other hand, we believe that grammar is equally important in
teaching, and therefore in our opinion, it is not the case to substitute
grammar teaching with vocabulary teaching, but that both should be present in
teaching a foreign language. 
Lewis himself insists that his lexical approach is not
simply a shift of emphasis from grammar to vocabulary teaching, as ‘language
consists not of traditional grammar and vocabulary, but often of multi-word
prefabricated chunks’(Lewis, 1997). Chunks include collocations, fixed and
semi-fixed expressions and idioms, and according to him, occupy a crucial role
in facilitating language production, being the key to fluency. 
An explanation for native speakers’ fluency is that
vocabulary is not stored only as individual words, but also as parts of phrases
and larger chunks, which can be retrieved from memory as a whole, reducing
processing difficulties. On the other hand, learners who only learn individual
words will need a lot more time and effort to express themselves. 
Consequently, it is essential to make students aware
of chunks, giving them opportunities to identify, organise and record these.
Identifying chunks is not always easy, and at least in the beginning, students
need a lot of guidance. 
Hill (1999) explains that most learners with ‘good
vocabularies’ have problems with fluency because their ‘collocational
competence’ is very limited, and that, especially from Intermediate level, we
should aim at increasing their collocational competence with the vocabulary
they have already got. For Advance learners he also suggests building on what
they already know, using better strategies and increasing the number of items
they meet outside the classroom. 
The idea of what it is to ‘know’ a word is also
enriched with the collocational component. According to Lewis (1993) ‘being
able to use a word involves mastering its collocational range and restrictions
on that range’. I can say that using all the opportunities to teach chunks
rather than isolated words is a feasible idea that has been working well in my
classes, and which is fortunately coming up in new coursebooks we are using.
However, both teachers and learners need awareness raising activities to be
able to identify multi-word chunks. 
Apart from identifying chunks, it is important to
establish clear ways of organising and recording vocabulary. According to Lewis
(1993), ‘language should be recorded together which characteristically occurs
together’, which means not in a linear, alphabetical order, but in collocation
tables, mind-maps, word trees, for example. He also suggests the recording of
whole sentences, to help contextualization, and that storage of items is highly
personal, depending on each student’s needs. 
We have already mentioned the use of dictionaries as a
way to discover meaning and foster learner independence.  Lewis extends
the use of dictionaries to focus on word grammar and collocation range,
although most dictionaries are rather limited in these. 
Lewis also defends the use of ‘real’ or ‘authentic’
material from the early stages of learning, because ‘acquisition is facilitated
by material which is only partly understood’ (Lewis, 1993, p. 186). Although he
does not supply evidence for this, I agree that students need to be given tasks
they can accomplish without understanding everything from a given text, because
this is what they will need as users of the language. He also suggests that it
is better to work intensively with short extracts of authentic material, so
they are not too daunting for students and can be explored for
Finally, the Lexical Approach and Task-Based Learning
have some common principles, which have been influencing foreign language
teaching. Both approaches regard intensive, roughly-tuned input as essential
for acquisition, and maintain that successful communication is more important
than the production of accurate sentences. We certainly agree with these
principles and have tried to use them in our class. 
There are several aspects of lexis that need to be
taken into account when teaching vocabulary. The list below is based on the
work of Gairns and Redman (1986): 
·      Boundaries
between conceptual meaning
: knowing not only what lexis refers to, but also
where the boundaries are that separate it from words of related meaning (e.g.
cup, mug, bowl).
·      Polysemy: distinguishing
between the various meaning of a single word form with several but closely
related meanings (head: of a person, of a pin, of an organisation).
·      Homonymy:
distinguishing between the various meaning of a single word form which has
several meanings which are NOT closely related ( e.g. a file: used to put
papers in or a tool).
·      Homophyny:understanding
words that have the same pronunciation but different spellings and meanings
(e.g. flour, flower).
·      Synonymy:
distinguishing between the different shades of meaning that synonymous words
have (e.g. extend, increase, expand).
·      Affective
distinguishing between the attitudinal and emotional factors
(denotation and connotation), which depend on the speakers attitude or the
situation. Socio-cultural associations of lexical items is another important
·      Style,
register, dialect:
Being able to distinguish between different levels of
formality, the effect of different contexts and topics, as well as differences
in geographical variation.
·      Translation:
awareness of certain differences and similarities between the native and the
foreign language (e.g. false cognates).
·      Chunks
of language:
multi-word verbs, idioms, strong and weak collocations,
lexical phrases.
·      Grammar
of vocabulary:
learning the rules that enable students to build up
different forms of the word or even different words from that word (e.g. sleep,
slept, sleeping; able, unable; disability).
·      Pronunciation:
ability to recognise and reproduce items in speech. 

implication of the aspects just mentioned in teaching is that the goals of
vocabulary teaching must be more than simply covering a certain number of words
on a word list. We must use teaching techniques that can help realise this
global concept of what it means to know a lexical item. And we must also go
beyond that, giving learner opportunities to use the items learnt and also
helping them to use effective written storage systems.