The Main Types of Reading Skills and Reading Comprehension Techniques

Though it may be a standard to criticize contemporary society for its seeming indifference towards traditional hobbies like reading, the opinion is actually invalid. Pew Research Center has found that up to 72% of adult Americans enjoy a good book in their spare time. Those people are also likely to read their chosen material in any format available, from printed copies to electronic books. The next time you see someone staring at their phone in public transportation, chances are they’ll be engrossed in fiction rather than scrolling through their Instagram feeds.

If you want to improve your reading skills and practice active reading, you need to master and employ various reading comprehension strategies. Knowing what these strategies are helps you do your critical reading exercises more efficiently.

You should also get familiar with the types of reading skills. Along with writing skills, they are one of the most important to have today. Let’s delve into the importance of incorporating active reading into your daily life and brushing up on the different reading skills. 

The Classification of Reading Skills

Credit: Foundry

You will have to read actively to do any comprehension exercise. Since the term reading comprehension is so broad, classifying the skills that it encompasses poses a bit of a challenge. One way to classify reading skills is to differentiate between passive and active reading, also known as uncritical and critical reading, respectively.

Critical reading means you are:

  • Striving to understand texts in depth
  • Gaining new knowledge from texts
  • Double-checking any facts and statements you find in the text
  • Coming to your own conclusions about the text

Uncritical reading means you:

  • Aren’t focused on gaining knowledge from texts
  • Don’t think actively about what you are reading
  • Take what you read at face value
  • Don’t form an original opinion about the text

While critical reading is a skill of its own, there are specific types of reading skills you need to learn to read texts critically.

If you want to delve into the specific types of reading skills that students need to employ and educators need to teach, those would be:

  1. Decoding
  2. Acquiring new vocabulary
  3. Fluency
  4. Knowing language conventions
  5. Focused attention
  6. Expanding world knowledge


Decoding or phonemic awareness is the first skill you learn when you go to school. It is the ability to make out words, phrases, and sentences.

If you are a high school student or you’ve already embarked on your college journey, you are employing the skill of decoding unconsciously. You need this skill to be a critical reader. For example, you may stumble upon an unknown word while you are reading. You don’t know its meaning, but you do know how to pronounce it by decoding the letters and the sounds they make when they are arranged in a specific order. 

Vocabulary Range

Using your vocabulary knowledge means you can decipher meaning from the words and phrases you’re reading. You should improve your vocabulary regardless of your age or education level.

Language is a living thing, which means that new vocabulary is being invented and acquired naturally all the time. Whether you are a straight-A student or are struggling to break through your reading barriers, your vocabulary should be evolving constantly.

Vocabulary is also closely related to concept development. What this means is that the richer your vocabulary is, the broader your understanding of the world is. Vocabulary isn’t just a skill that helps you become a proficient reader, but it can also improve your prospects of studying any given major.


Reading fluency means you can read any text without difficulty, regardless of whether you are familiar with the topic or not. Fluency in reading is reflected in how much you have to pause while reading to understand what’s written.

A neat way you can gauge your reading fluency is by clocking your reading time. You don’t have to use a stopwatch each time you sit down to enjoy a good book. You can instead time how many minutes it takes you to get through a paragraph or even one sentence of an unfamiliar text.

Here’s one demonstration of reading fluency:

Type of a Reader Sentence Example

Poor reader

You will ︱read this︱sentence︱slowly and︱struggle to︱grasp the︱meaning fast.

Fluent reader

You will have no problem︱reading this sentence︱ in less than a second.

Language Conventions

Language conventions refer to your knowledge of grammar, spelling, and punctuation. While spelling words correctly can fall under vocabulary skills, being familiar with various grammar constructions and standard punctuation rules deserves a special mention.

If you can understand a text that has complex sentence structures, you possess one reading comprehension skill. You can say that you possess this skill when you are comfortable with using more than several grammatical constructions in your writing. This is one way in which writing and reading skills are interconnected.

When you know how professional authors employ different writing strategies to express certain ideas or convey a specific tone, you can read their texts with ease and understand them perfectly.


Poor readers have short attention spans. They cannot focus on a lengthy passage without being distracted—oftentimes, by their own thoughts. It’s why attention while being a cognitive skill essentially, is also a part of proficient reading comprehension.

If you are struggling to focus on the text you are reading, you should practice broadening your attention span. There are many ways to accomplish that. For example, you can set a specific time during the day that will be devoted to reading. To get started, 15 minutes of uninterrupted reading is enough. See if, after several days, you can broaden that timespan to 25 minutes or a whole hour.

Another cognitive skill that is relevant for reading is memory. Proficient readers won’t forget what they’ve absorbed as soon as they are occupied by a different activity. 

That is called retention, and not only does it help you study better, but it also lets you truly enjoy the reading material and absorb new ideas from it.

World Knowledge

Drawing on your background knowledge of the world is another skill you use unconsciously while you read. In practice, you are relating what you already know to what you are reading.

For example, let’s say you are reading Jane Austen’s classic “Pride and Prejudice.” The iconic opening sentence goes, “it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Your knowledge of the period and its societal conventions helps you see that Austen was poking fun at it.

The more you read, the more knowledge of the world you gain. You use the knowledge you acquired to infer meaning from other texts. This is a good example of how you employ all the different reading skills simultaneously.

Differences Between Active and Passive Reading

In reality, you employ both active and passive reading, depending on your mood and the reason you are reading different texts. If you want to practice reading skills, you need to be able to tell the difference between active and passive reading.

If you are serious about honing your reading skills, you should be able to monitor yourself while reading. For example, you might lose focus often and end up reading passively even though that was not your original intention. When that happens, the best course is to take a short break or go back to the passage you missed before you move on.

To help you discern whether you are reading actively or passively—i.e., critically or uncritically—here’s a table that demonstrates how the two play out:

Active Reading Passive Reading
  • Aiming to find something out
  • Reading slowly or quickly based on the given information or writing style
  • Going over what you have read in your head and being willing to discuss it with others
  • Taking care to understand the text you’re reading thoroughly
  • Skimming the text before reading it whole
  • Gaining little new knowledge from texts
  • Leafing through the material regardless of the content
  • Letting the ideas in the text slip away quickly upon finishing it
  • Being unwilling to question your understanding of the text
  • Going ahead with reading without any idea what the text is about

Four Reading Skills—From Skimming and Scanning to Intensive and Extensive Reading

Credit: Free-Photos

When considering different types of reading skills, a short list of four strategies—or reading styles—may come to mind. These are:

  1. Skimming
  2. Scanning
  3. Intensive
  4. Extensive

All four are types of reading, and they present both the techniques you employ and the skills you use to read.

Intensive Reading

Intensive reading implies you are diving deep into a given text. You want to analyze not only every idea expressed in it but also the words and phrases the author has used. For this reason, intensive reading is usually regarded as an advanced reading activity. 

To read intensively, you need several types of reading skills we have outlined, most notably:

  • Advanced vocabulary range
  • Excellent attention span
  • Good memory
  • Familiarity with the context (or extensive world knowledge)

You would, of course, study your school material intensively, but you don’t have to employ this reading style only to study for a good grade. Intensive reading helps you gain new vocabulary, makes you a critical reader, and broadens your attention span further.

If you want an effective intensive reading practice, you should:

  1. Pick a reading material that deals with the topics you are interested in
  2. Set a time when you will read
  3. Preview the text by reading the heading, subheadings, and first sentences of paragraphs
  4. Read the text deeply, noting down any questions that come to mind or highlighting the statements you want to fact-check
  5. Jot down the vocabulary items you are not familiar with

You can read anything you want, from blog posts to scholarly papers. What matters is that you set a specific time to practice intensive reading instead of trying to concentrate on texts while you have other responsibilities on your mind. When it comes to learning new vocabulary, always try to discern the meanings of unknown words and phrases from the context before you look them up in a dictionary.

If possible, you should engage in discussion with someone about what you read. Sharing ideas will help you retain what you read for a long time and truly acquire new knowledge. 

Extensive Reading

You can think of extensive reading as reading for pleasure. You don’t have to analyze each part of the reading material or scratch your head anytime you’re not sure what the author wanted to say. Reading extensively implies you are reading to get the bigger picture, enjoy the story, and pass the time. 

Extensive reading should not be confused with passive reading. While you are absorbing a certain material for pleasure, you still want to take in new knowledge and engross yourself in the story. Regular extensive reading helps you acquire new vocabulary too. It also builds a healthy habit of reading for pleasure.

Ideal materials for extensive reading are magazines, fiction novels, and comic books. Make sure to pick the material you are interested in and create a relaxing environment for reading for at least an hour. You should also keep any distractions away.


Credit: Freddy Castro

Skimming implies going over a text briefly before you decide whether you want to read it whole. In fact, you use skimming a lot in your daily life—for example, when you leaf through a magazine to check if any content in it is worth a complete read.

College students can benefit from skimming texts in particular. If you are a scholar, you need to collect and research long papers often. To help you determine which ones you will use in your study, you should always skim through them first.

Here’s how you can apply the skimming technique:

  • Look at the title and table of contents of your material
  • Go over the text quickly to get the gist of the material
  • Pay attention to bolded or italicized sentences 

This technique is useful because it saves you plenty of time. You don’t have to start reading some material deeply only to conclude after a while that it has no use for you.


Scanning is the technique you use to locate specific bits of information in texts. Usually, you already know what the text is about, and you know it contains the information you need.

To give you an example, imagine you want to check when the Wars of the Roses ended. You will open a page in your history textbook you know contains this information. Alternatively, you can type in Wars of the Roses into a Google search. Your eyes will fly over the text searching for numbers, and you will have your answer quickly.

Scanning is a useful technique to employ both in education and real life. Like skimming, it saves you time and makes locating specific facts easy.

Types of Reading Comprehension

Reading comprehension is the endgame of any reading activity.

Since there are different types of reading skills, there are different levels of reading comprehension too:

  • Literal—refers to the comprehension of basic information within texts that allows you to answer the five Ws (who, what, where, when, and why) of the story or article you are reading
  • Inferential—based on your literal comprehension of a text, you can predict the unfolding of events in a story or infer meaning from context 
  • Applied—using background knowledge to form an opinion about a text and retell it to others. You can give an answer to any question related to the text you have read
  • Evaluative—you can judge the text you read based on the author’s tone, language, or writing style. Evaluative comprehension gives you the power to read between the lines
  • Lexical—implies you can infer the meaning of target vocabulary items within texts. While lexical comprehension is often being taught to children, it can also be used to learn a new language. If you want to practice lexical comprehension, you can look up the keywords and phrases before reading a text

Reading Skills in the Classroom

Reading skills are a varied concept. You can employ many different strategies to improve your comprehension. While we have taken care to outline all the essential critical reading skills, our list is not exhaustive. For example, you can use different poetry reading strategies if you want to deepen your understanding of the verse.

Reflecting on the importance of critical reading, would you say you are being taught these skills efficiently in school? Do your teachers use fun ways to teach reading or utilize technology and teach reading through apps? Both are not only possible but necessary if high school education is to be effective and prepare you for your life after graduation.

If you believe there can be innovations in schools to improve the high school experience for you and your peers, we want to hear your ideas! Write to us, and we’ll make sure your voice is heard.

Let’s rethink American education together!