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Reading with DiagramsHow to use diagrams to improve your reading skills

Updated: Nov 20, 2020

You are sitting at a computer screen ready to take your English exam. You have paper and a pencil for notes. The computer screen shows you the next part of the exam: a reading passage. You know you’re supposed to take notes as you read. But how?



Reading is one of the four key skills in learning a language: Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening. Good reading skills are essential to passing assessment tests (such as the TOEFL), for success in American colleges and universities, and to everyday work and life.

Using a diagram to take notes as you read can help you understand and organize the information in a reading passage so that you can successfully answer the questions.

Let’s look at a reading passage that compares and contrasts two places:

Houston, Texas and Seattle, Washington are two significant cities in the United States. Both cities are popular with students who want to learn English. Both cities are near the coast. Seattle is home to Major League Baseball team, the Seattle Mariners. Houston is home to the Houston Astros who won baseball’s World Series in 2017. However, there are significant differences between Seattle and Houston. Houston is the largest city in Texas, the fourth largest city in the United States and has a bigger population than Seattle. It also has more than 10,000 restaurants and food trucks for dining. On the other hand, Seattle’s weather is cooler and rainier than Houston’s. Unlike Houston, the Seattle summers are not hot, and it is a short drive or ferry ride to visit neighboring Canada. Both Seattle and Houston are remarkable cities in the United States that offer distinct and exciting experiences.

A great tool to organize your reading notes for comparing and contrasting is a Venn Diagram. A Venn Diagram is a chart with two or more circles that overlap.

A Venn Diagram allows you to put your notes in clear categories. Is something unique to Houston? Is something only in Seattle? Is something shared by both cities? Let’s look at three examples:

● Houston has warm summers. Seattle does not. We will put that detail in the Houston-only circle.

● Seattle is near Canada. Houston is not. We will put that detail in the Seattle-only circle.

● Both cities have a Major League Baseball team. We will put that detail in the space that both the Houston and Seattle circle share.



To draw your own Venn Diagram, simply draw two circles that overlap on your note paper. Make sure to label (give a name to) each circle.


Now, can you finish the chart? Read the passage again. Then complete your notes in a Venn Diagram.


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