Skills vs. Strategies

Obviously, on some level, a skill if properly mastered becomes a subconscious process.   So, what happens when skill use is very consciously and deliberately planned, either because the text is beyond the reader’s comprehension ability,  or because they want to prioritize the text and slow down the reading process in some way? In these cases, the reader uses a strategy.

Here is an essay on the difference between skills and strategies Skills vs. Strategies  (Afflerbach, Pearson & Paris.  The Reading Teacher, 2008) From that essay, here are the teacher reactions and the definitions which prompted a better understanding.

““Skills make up strategies.”

“Strategies lead to skills.”

“Skill is the destination, strategy is the journey.”

“We learn strategies to do a skill.”

“Skills are automatic, strategies are effortful and


“We use strategies as tools.”

“Strategies that work require a skill set.”

“We have to pay attention in learning skills, but

eventually we use them automatically.”

“You don’t think about skills, and you do think

about strategies.”


We followed our questioning of colleagues with

consultation of The Literacy Dictionary  (Harris &

Hodges, 1995), a commonly used reading reference,

and found the following definitions:

skill n. 1. an acquired ability to perform well; proficiency.

Note: The term often refers to finely coordinated,

complex motor acts that are the result of perceptualmotor

learning, such as handwriting, golf, or pottery.

However, skill is also used to refer to parts of acts that

are primarily intellectual, as those involved in comprehension

or thinking. (p. 235)

strategy n. in education, a systematic plan, consciously

adapted and monitored, to improve one’s performance

in learning. (p. 244)”


I would summarize the essay in the following way, a skill is an automatic reflex, while a strategy is deliberate action.Through repeated practical use of a strategy, a learner can gain a skill. Automaticity is one of the key aspects of skills, especially in reading, where prior knowledge must be accessed on a continuous basis. On the other hand, a strategy is employed by the reader after conscious analysis to solve a specific problem or problem area.



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