Reading, according to the dictionary, means to look at and comprehend a written or printed text or information. Reading is acquiring knowledge about the phonemes, orthographic structures, graphemes, word-order and the sentence structure of a text. A reader has to possess the knowledge of the context in which the language is used, the culture of the language in which it is presented and the signification and value of the language used. A reader uses various skills in decoding the meaning of unfamiliar words, he looks for morphemes, semantics, syntax and context cues to derive meaning from the text. The reader activates the background knowledge to interpret and comprehend the words and sentences (Wikipedia).
Reading is not necessarily done with the eyes but also with the mind. Reading can be done for different purposes such as reading to acquire more or new knowledge about a person, topic, idea or thing, reading for leisure, etc. Reading is very important, therefore, students should be encouraged to be involved in reading in order to broaden their intellectual horizon.
There are various techniques of reading such as reading for gist, scanning, reading for detailed understanding. The remaining part of this article will centre briefly on reading for gist and mastering reading.
The gist is the general meaning or purpose of a text, either written or spoken. Reading a text for gist is also known as skimming. For example, before answering detailed comprehension questions on a short story, learners read it quickly for gist and then match the text to a picture that summarises what happens in the story.
Skimming is reading rapidly in order to get a general overview of the material. Skimming tells you what general information is within a section. Skimming can be used in previewing i.e, reading before you read. It can be used in reviewing i.e, reading after you’ve read, and determining the main idea from a long selection you don’t wish to read, or when trying to find source material for a research paper. Skimming is a good way to read but you might miss out on some important points in the text. Students learning how to answer questions on comprehension passages, for instance, can follow the skimming procedures such as:
- Looking for the words in italics,
- Looking for the words in bold,
- Reading through a particular portion of the passage to find a quick answer to a particular question, etc.
Reading for gist or skimming saves time and helps go straight to the point in answering questions. It is advisable for learners to adopt this technique in answering questions on summary too as each paragraph carries an idea.
It is important that teachers help their students master the act of ‘reading for gist’ because it will have a great effect on their overall reading skill.
In a reading lesson, teachers should expose their students to different reading techniques. This will provide learners with the opportunity to practice different reading techniques. Thus, they would learn to read every given text with the appropriate reading technique. For instance, the technique for reading an academic journal is different from the one for a business directory.