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Active Reading - How to do it?

Active Reading is defined as a cognitive process that involves decoding symbols to arrive at meaning. While we are reading, there is no use if we do not understand the meaning of words.

The main purpose of reading is to understand the text in the meaning which the author had intended. In order to understand, we also need to have good comprehension and great focus.

Reading is a thinking process. To read a text the reader must already have the base knowledge to understand the text to a decent level. During this process of information, the reader uses strategies to understand what they are reading, using themes and textual clues to find the meaning of new words.

Let us see more about the three stages of reading,

  • The first stage is the pre-reading stage, which allows the reader to examine and activate the background knowledge on the subject they are reading. This develops a purpose for reading. This is where the learners/ readers should look at the titles as subtitles and prepare to consume the information with intention. The reader prepares mentally to take in information to build on it and retain it for more learning.

  • The second stage occurs during the active reading. In the first stage, the reader might have made a prediction or an expectation about the text. This is where the unlearning and new learning happens. Understanding the content and the context as vividly. Comprehending the text and fixing it in the memory for building on it, using it as a base knowledge to acquire more information.

  • The final stage is the post-reading stage, where the reader comes with questions, doubts, understanding and is able to pass it on or teach. It is most likely that the reader is able to summarize whatever they have learnt. The reader should be able to retell the story, discuss the elements of a story, answer questions, or compare it to some other text.

The four main reading techniques are

  • Skimming

  • Scanning

  • Intensive reading and

  • Extensive reading


Let’s say you are searching for a name in your contact list. Now you are not involved in the content. But this helps you create a perception and an expectation of the content.

You might search for some word, block letters, italic letters, highlighted text. These are the kind of text that will capture your attention. This is called Skimming.

You can read through even 700 words per minute if you train yourself well on this particular method. Comprehension and understanding the overall content is very low.


Scanning is a little time consuming than skimming. Let’s say that you’ve got the contact you’ve been searching for. What is the next thing that you do? We see the number, contact details with more care right.

You are trying to consume only particular information. Sometimes we stop in a paragraph and start reading to understand the concept in the content.

Intensive Reading

Intensive Reading is where we delve deeper into the content in not only understanding the concept but also retaining it in long-term memory.

This type of reading is used by language learner when they are understanding the vocabulary by deducing the meaning of words in context.

Extensive Reading

Extensive Reading involves reading for pleasure. Let us say that you are reading a novel. There is an element of enjoyment in extensive reading. It requires fluid decoding and assimilation of the text and content.


We had to know about the reading techniques to actively ingest a text. Extensive reading is more passive. But reading a chemistry equation or a concept needs you to do the intensive reading. So during the active reading, we are incorporate the three stages of reading and four techniques in reading.

Take the content that you would like to read actively. This means that you would want to understand and retain not only the concept but also able to explain it to someone or teach someone. Always have a paper and pen while actively reading.


Read the title and subtitle. The number of subtitles. Once you’ve read. Try recalling the titles. The more you try to recall, the more you are going to retain that in memory. Write down the titles that you were able to recall. Run through the titles and subtitles once more. Recall. Write them down. By now you would know the gist of the content. We are involving skimming in active reading.

During-reading - While you are reading you will be able to part the paragraph into sections. Create appropriate questions for the sections. This will help you to anchor the answer to it. Create as much as a vivid imagination. We usually imagine the visual, but try imagining the texture, smell and sound of the text you read. The more senses we incorporate the more vividly we will remember.


Summarize your learning to your pal. Try applying what you have learned in real life. Teaching is the best way to learn. Teach it to your friends. Encourage them to ask questions. This will make you introspect your reading technique and improve on it.

Skim, Scan, Imagine, Question, Recall and Summarize. You cannot forget it now and you have understood something to the fullest at very less time.

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