Reading Skills vs. Strategies

The terms “skill” and “strategy” are often used interchangeably in literacy texts. However, the two words have different meanings and should be used accurately in tutors’ approaches to teaching. Misinterpreting the terms can lead to confusion and frustration for both tutors and learners.


Skills: the abilities that an individual possesses allowing them to perform something in an easy and fast way. A person usually needs to go through training to become skilful at something and arrive at high levels of success (Manoli & Papadopoulou).

Strategies: the purposeful metacognitive actions that readers employ that are unique to each reading situation (Afflerbach, Pearson, & Paris).

Literacy experts vary in their definitions of strategies and skills. One way to think about them is that a strategy is a process to solve a problem and a skill is more of an automatic action. Strategies are essentially tools in the reader’s toolbox. Learners develop reading skills when they automatically and successfully employ strategies while they are reading. For example, if a learner has trouble identifying the main idea, the tutor would teach a strategy (possibly using the think aloud method) so that the learner has a plan and process to solve the problem, thereby gaining the skill of determining the main idea. When the process is automatic, it can be considered a skill.

“At the heart of accomplished reading is a balance of both—automatic application and use of reading skills, and intentional, effortful employment of reading strategies—accompanied by the ability to shift seamlessly between the two when the situation calls for it.” – Peter Afflerbach, P. David Pearson, Scott G. Paris

Watch the video below for a further explanation of the difference between strategies and skills.

For more about reading strategies versus reading skills, check out the resources below.


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