Eight Tips for Content Area Reading

by Andrea Farenga

Content area reading is what a person needs to read and understand in a given subject area. It is a comprehensive endeavor that involves not only reading, but also writing, and can include other literacy skills such as talking, listening, even drawing. It has expanded to include web based resources, and digital textbooks. In school the texts are for science, social studies, and math courses, yet effective content reading is also a life skill for a multitude of professions. It is not like reading a novel, wherein one can read from A-Z, beginning to end, and have a satisfying experience; it’s more complex than that. Whether your child loves reading or avoids it at all costs, learning to effectively read textbooks or like material is essential for academic success. Try some of the following tips to maximize reading comprehension:


Before Reading

Get out your notebook or laptop! Writing improves reading comprehension.*


Walk through the material and read the introduction, learning objectives, headings, bold print, sidebar; view any photos, diagrams etc. and read the captions. Finally read the summary at the end of the chapter.

  1. What is your Purpose for reading? Are you preparing for a presentation or test? Gathering information to write a paper? This will help you pay attention to what is most important.

  2. Create a simple KWL table- What I Know, What I Want to Know, and What I Learned. Using information from your prior knowledge about the subject, and that gleaned from the page through write 3-6 items under both K and W.


During Reading

  1. 1,2,3,? As you read monitor your comprehension. Section by section (paragraphs, pages, headings etc) write (in the book or on a paper or digital sticky note) a 1 if you understand the main idea and details 100%. If you can explain it to someone that’s a good clue you are comprehending the material; 2 signifies that you understand the main points and some of the details; 3, you get the main points but that’s about it. ?- You’re clueless! (That’s ok, it happens to the best of us).

  2. Stop and Reread when you find yourself spacing out, confused, or on 3 or ? of the above.

  3. Page through the text and Convert the Major Headings into Questions. For example, The After Reading heading can be changed to What should I do after reading? Close the text, write the answers, then go back to check them. Make corrections as needed.

  4. Create a Vocabulary Table. Column 1 - The word or concept; 2 – How it is used in the text; 3 - Definition; 4- Write the definition in your own words. Limit this to perhaps to ten words or concepts, but the number is adaptable.

  5. Go back to your KWL Table and fill in the L- What I Learned. If something is missing go back to your notes (Headings to Questions, Vocabulary Table) or the text and fill it in.


There you have it! There are more content reading strategies for individuals, and some especially suited to group study. Try them all and use the ones most helpful to you. Happy Reading!


*literacyworldwide.org Tracy, Kelly N. Writing to Read: Evidence for How Writing Can Improve Reading. (2013) International Literacy Association.


Andrea Farenga, Ed.D., has taught future teachers at both the undergraduate and graduate levels for nearly two decades.

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