By the end of this lesson, you will to be able to:

1.       Explain clearly the art of reading.

2.       State the importance of reading.

3.       Show interest in reading.

What is Reading?

In simple language, reading involves making meaning out of written texts. Different scholars have defined reading differently.  Here are two of such definitions:

1.       First, reading is a process of interaction between the text and the reader which is shaped by the reader’s prior knowledge, experiences, attitude, and language community which is culturally and socially situated.

2.       Reading is also said to be the process of constructing meaning from written texts. It is said to be a complex skill requiring the coordination of a number of interrelated sources of information.

This means that during reading, there is a dynamic interaction among:

1.       The reader’s existing  knowledge;

2.       The information  suggested  by the text being read; and

3.       The context of the reading situation.

This also means that when we read:

1.       We try to make meaning from the text.

2.       We run our eyes across and down the page, recognizing and understanding the words.

3.       The meaning we get must be the message the writer wishes to put across.

4.       We try to search the thoughts and feelings of the writer at the time of writing.

5.       In certain cases, our ability to get what the writer thinks   and feels depends on what we already know.

6.       The   understanding   we   get   depends   on   the   situations,   environments,   and circumstances presented in the text.

What does it mean to make meaning from a text?

Even  definitions  of  reading  that  emphasize  meaning  indicate  that  reading  is  activated  by print.  The  reader  must  be  able  to  translate  the  written  words  into  meaningful language. Virtually  all  four-  and  five-year-old  children  can  communicate  with  and  learn  from oral language,  but  very  few  can  read,  because they lack  the ability to  identify printed  words. While   simply   being   able   to recognize   or   “say”  the   printed   words  of  text  without constructing  the  meaning  of  that  text  is  not  reading,  constructing  meaning  from  written text is impossible  without  being able to identify  the words.

The terms word identificationword recognition, and decoding are frequently used interchangeably. The new Literacy Dictionary defines both word recognition and word identification   as   “the   process   of determining   the pronunciation and   some degree of meaning of an unknown word”.  For  words  that  are  in  a  reader’s  meaning  vocabulary, unlocking  the  pronunciation  leads  to  the  word’s  meaning.  If a  printed  word  is  not  in  a reader’s meaning vocabulary, word-identification skills may allow access to the word’s pronunciation,  but  not  its  meaning.  Being able to arrive at the pronunciation of a printed word constitutes word identification in the most minimal sense.  However, if the reader is unable to attach meaning to the word, then he or she has not read the word, since reading must end in meaning construction.  This  is  why  it  is  expedient  that  you  make  deliberate efforts  to  systematically  build  up  a  store  of vocabulary  for  yourself as you read  various forms of literature.

Building a store of vocabulary

Effective reading is linked to the student’s ability to recognize words in the context of a text or passage.  The student must not just be able to identify the word; he must also be able to pronounce it correctly and know its meaning, preferably in a sentence.

There  are  several proven  benefits  in  improving  your  vocabulary,  but  how  should  we go about learning new words in the most effective way? There are a number of vocabulary- building strategies that could help you to develop a strong vocabulary and keep improving it every day.

The following strategies will help you to enhance your vocabulary:

1.       Read voraciously

It is undeniable that reading is the most effective way to get new vocabulary.  When you read, you see words being used in context — and that makes it more effective than, for example,   merely memorizing word   lists.   People with extensive vocabulary are usually constantly reading. New words are picked up by reading books, magazines and other publications.  One way to develop an extensive vocabulary is to read publications covering various subjects. With context information surrounding each new word, there is a good chance of guessing the meaning of a word to understand the overall text. Finding out the meaning of words in such a way is the natural way of learning language.  Besides, reading provides the best opportunity to get exposed to this natural way of learning. If you are not able to infer the meaning of new words when reading, it is probably because there are too many unknown words in the text.  In that case, try reading easier materials. The key to good reading is making it a pleasurable activity; so do not be afraid of coming across unknown  words, but make sure the text is appropriate for your reading level.

2.       Be a friend of the dictionary

A dictionary is the first indispensable resource to improve your vocabulary.  It is only by looking  up   a  word   in  a  dictionary  that  you  will  learn  its  precise  meaning,  spelling, alternate  definitions,  and  find  much more useful information about it.  A  thesaurus  is also a  valuable  resource  for  learning,  by  finding  connections  between  words,  such  as  their synonyms  and antonyms. Consider adding a good dictionary and thesaurus to your bookshelf. Here are some recommendations:

a.       Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary;

b.      The New Oxford American  Dictionary;

c.       The Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus.

For online dictionaries, there are many free options with great extra features.  Even if you already have a good dictionary in print, you cannot miss having a good online dictionary at your disposal. Note the following examples:

a.       OneLook:  Has  a  reverse  lookup  function  (get  the  word  from its  definition)  and works as a ―meta-dictionary‖, showing you definitions from other major online dictionaries.  I recommend you try OneLook and explore its results to decide which dictionary  you prefer;

b.      Merriam-Webster’s  Online  Dictionary:  this is also a useful alternative ;

c.       Ninjawords:  It searches the free dictionary Wiktionary.   What  makes  this  site interesting  is  that  you  can  look  up  multiple  words  simultaneously.  Moreover, the results pages can be bookmarked – making  them good personal reference pages;

d.      Thinkmap  Visual Thesaurus: This  give  you  the  opportunity  to  view  related  words represented in a visual map format;

e.      Answers.com, Dictionary.com, The Free Dictionary and many others: All of them are good resources – try each one at least once to help you make up your mind.

3.       Use the word or lose it

Do not settle after you learn a new word by reading it or looking it up in the dictionary: these are good starts, but it is by using the new words that you truly commit them to your long-term memory.  Repetition is good.

One of the best ways to increase vocabulary is through repetition.  Throughout the day, continually repeat a word you are trying to learn to embed it within your memory. You can also  write  down  a  word  multiple  times  on  a  piece  of  paper  to  memorize  it.  Another strategy you can use is to memorize new words by creating a sentence with the new word in it. Be creative and try to use your newly learned words in as many ways as possible:

a.       Write them down;

b.      Say them aloud, i.e. pronounce them to yourself;

c.       Create sentences with them, mentally  and in writing;

d.      Try to use them in a conversation;

e.      Discuss them with friends.

It is also important to be aware of your own language style: every time you catch yourself saying common or non-specific words such as ―nice‖, try coming up with richer and more precise expressions instead.

4.       Learn one new word a day

If you learn just one new word every day, you will soon notice they add up pretty quickly. What makes this strategy stand out is that it can be used by anyone, no matter how busy one’s schedule is.  You  can  also  learn  to  enjoy  growing  your  vocabulary  by  committing yourself to learning  at least one new word each day. There  are  many  websites  that  provide  free  word-of-the-day  services,  delivering  them in many formats – such as e-mail and even text messages sent to your cell phone. These have already been listed in point 2, above.

5.       Understand the true meaning of words

By deeply understanding words,   you can make your vocabulary grow exponentially. Instead   of  just  memorizing  words,  try  to  really  understand  them  by  looking  at  their etymology,  word  roots,  prefixes  and  suffixes.  At least half of English words are derived from Greek and Latin roots, so there are enormous benefits in being familiar with them. For instance, when you understand that the prefix ―ortho ‖ means straight or right, you start to  find  connections  between  seemingly  unrelated  words,  such as orthodontist (a specialist who straightens  teeth) and orthography  (the correct, or straight  way of writing).Understanding  the  logic  behind  words  always  pays  off in terms of learning and  recalling.

Consider  the  examples:  ―breakfast‖  meaning  ―interrupt  the  night’s  fast‖;  or  ―rainbow‖ meaning  ―bow  or  arc  caused  by  rain‖:  while  these  meanings  may  be  trivial  to  native English  speakers,  having  such  insights  about  words,  foreign  or  otherwise,  is  not  only exciting  but helpful.

6.       Maintain a personal lexicon

By keeping a personalized list of learned words, you will have a handy reference you can use to check these words later. It is very likely you will want to go back and refresh your memory  on  recent  words,  so  keeping  them in  your  own list is more efficient than going back to the dictionary  every time. Keep a vocabulary book.

Even if you never refer back to your lexicon again, writing words down at least once will greatly   enhance   your   ability   to   commit   them to   your   permanent   memory.   Another excellent  learning  aid  is  to  write  an  original sentence  containing  the  word  —  and  using your lexicon to do that is a great way of enforcing this habit. You can also add many other details  as  you  see  fit,  such  as  the  date  you  first  came  across  the  word  or  may  be  a sequential number to help you reach some word quota you define.

 There are many ways you can keep your personal word list. You could have a vocabulary book  in  which  you  have  about  four  columns: the  date,  the  word/  phrase,  meaning  and sentence example.  A page in your vocabulary book could look like this:

13/09/2015  ExploreTo examine something completely or carefully in order to find out more about itThese ideas will be explored in the next lecture.
The aim of these businessmen was to explore further opportunities for investment in the country
14/9/2015 AntiquityThese ideas will be explored in the next lecture.
The state of being very old or ancient; something that dates from ancient times.
The pyramids in Egypt have been there from antiquity

In  the  chart  above,  you  will notice  that  there  are  four  columns.  This first from the left indicates the date the word was first learnt. Next is the word to be learnt. The third column indicates  the  meaning  of the  word  as  found  in  the  dictionary  and/  or  context.  The  last column  shows  examples  of  sentences  in  which  the  word  has  been  used.  By having a predefined place you use to capture the words you come across, you can process them much more efficiently.  Practising this regularly will help you learn new words quickly.

7.       Follow a process

To  make  vocabulary  improvement  a  permanent  habit  in  your  everyday  life,  you  should make  it as habitual,  automatic and  tightly integrated  in your daily workflow as possible  – otherwise you will not do it when your days get too busy.

8.       Play and have fun

Engaging  in  group  activities  and  playing  games  are  useful  in  any  kind  of  learning,  but particularly   effective   for   language-related   learning.   You   can   gather   your   family   and friends and play word games together.

It is not easy to come up with your own word activities. You may, for example, try your own variation of Word Game: at a specific day of each week, a different person brings a new word to the meal. The person reads the word, defines it, and the others must come up with a sentence using the word.

If you do not have time or do not want to engage in group activities, there are numerous options of word games in the Internet.  You can either play them when you’re bored,  or integrate  them  in  your  daily  routine,   such  as  playing  a  quick  game  after  lunch,  for example.  Consider the following recommendations:

Merriam Webster’s Daily Word Game; Merriam Webster’s Daily Crossword; Word Games on Yahoo! Games.

9.       Take advantage of every resource you can

The Internet is a gold mine of resources for vocabulary building. There are plenty of vocabulary applications you can try. There are also many vocabulary- related books you can explore. The point is that you’re only limited by your willingness to learn; let curiosity be your guide and you will never run out of resources to learn from.

10.   Diversify

Do something different from your daily routine: hunting, fishing or blogging – any activity that is not a part of your normal life can become a great way to learn new words, as every niche has its own jargon and unique ways of communicating.  Read  different  books  and magazines  than  the  ones  you  are  used  to.  Watch foreign-language movies.  Take up new hobbies, hang out with different people.

By doing things out of the ordinary you will not only improve your vocabulary but also make your life much more interesting.

Forms of reading

Reading can be done either aloud or silently.  News readers, for example, read aloud. Students read silently when they are in the library.

a.       Reading aloud

Reading aloud is one of the most important things that children can engage in. This is because reading loud builds many important foundational skills, introduces vocabulary, provides a model of fluent, expressive reading, and helps children recognize what reading for pleasure is all about.

 We read aloud when we want others to hear what we read. What we read in this case can be the news, a letter, a story, minutes of a meeting or a speech.

b.   Silent reading

When we read silently we get a better understanding of what we read. Also, we are able to form mental pictures of the ideas and events presented in the text.

•    Provide a picture of a student reading in a library.

 Reasons why we read

There are three main reasons why people read. We read:

1.       For information.  For example, we read our English textbook for information on verbs. We may also read information from our tablets or computers on the internet.

2.       For pleasure. For example, we read story books to entertain ourselves.

3.       To learn to use a language effectively.  For example, we read our English textbooks to learn idioms, figures of speech and new vocabulary.

Benefits of reading

Let us now look at some of the specific reasons why you are encouraged to read. When you read:

1.       You learn new words. You see the same word again and again and the different ways in which it is used.

2.       You learn appropriate expressions in the language.

3.       You become familiar with the rhythm of English.  Over time, it will start to feel natural and you will notice when a sentence or phrase does not sound right.

4.       You improve on your other language skills.

5.       You develop a good way to learn to spell words.

6.       You improve your pronunciation skills as you listen to yourself reading.


Reading is a complex activity in which the reader works to make sense of a text, not just from the words and sentences on the page, but also from ideas, memories and knowledge evoked by those words and sentences.  Therefore, we can conclude on the following:

1.       Reading is an interaction between the text and the reader

2.       Reading involves making meaning out of the text we read.

3.       We read for information, get additional knowledge and also for pleasure.

4.       Reading helps develop the language skills.



William Foli Garr, (Rev.) M.Phil.

Peer Reviewers

Prosper Kwesi Agordjor, M.Phil.

John Tetteh Agor, Ph.D. 

Modestus Fosu, Ph.D.