Skimming & Scanning

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Once children can read competently, it is useful to learn the skills of skimming and scanning. Skimming is the process of rapidly reading text to obtain the main idea of the information presented, without necessarily reading every word. Scanning is the processing of rapidly searching for specific information within a text, such as a name, date, symbol or phrase. Skimming and scanning are particularly useful skills in situations when time is limited (e.g., completing tests) and when sifting through large amounts of text to find relevant information.

Effective skim reading follows a structured process. First and foremost, you need to have a specific purpose. It could be used to find the answer to a specific question, to review previously read material or to determine if a particular text (e.g., a website) is relevant. Next, the reader should look at the titles, sub-titles, captions, pictures, illustrations, charts, tables and diagrams. If perusal of these elements indicate the text may be useful, the next step would be to rapidly read the introduction and perhaps the conclusion. To delve a little deeper, you would then read the first sentence and perhaps the last sentence of each paragraph. It is important to remember that you will only have a superficial understanding of the text because you are not reading everything.

Unlike skimming, scanning involves looking for specific information. We often scan when we are using timetables, directories, indexes or when we are locating specific facts or information. Scanning often requires pre-requisite skills such as a knowledge of alphabetical order or how timetables are structured.  It is often useful to use you hand while scanning as it helps focus your eyes.

Giving children practise at skimming and scanning should be integrated into every day reading activities. It only needs to take a minute or two

Strategies for teaching scanning

Give children a page of text. See how quickly they can find a particular item or how many items they can find in a particular time frame. For example:

  • Find a particular letter combination currently being learned (e.g., ch or ar) or a specific word. If working with a group of children, these could be indicated with a highlighter and then counted.
  • Locate a person’s name, the date, time or place of an event.

Give children a dictionary, telephone directory or timetable and see how quickly they can find a specific word, name or time.

Give children several poems with the titles cut off. How quickly can they find a poem about a specific topic?

Find the scores for particular sports and teams in the newspaper.

 Strategies for teaching skimming

Place pencil under random words on a page for children to read rapidly. In a group situation this could be done with a ‘big book’ on text loaded onto a Smartboard. Once this can be done fluently, ask the children to read the word immediately following the word to which you are pointing. This can be made more challenging by asking the children to read the word that is two words or three words away from the word to which you are pointing.

Give children a sample of texts which they need to skim read to determine if it is fiction or non-fiction. This is a good activity to do before reading any book. It also provides an excellent opportunity to discuss key differences in structure between fiction and non-fiction texts.

Using structured text, such as that found in encyclopaedias or school science books, children complete as much of a mind-map as possible in a short-time frame. The focus for this activity is on headings, then sub-heading and sub-sub-headings followed by key information picked up by skimming paragraphs.

Ensure children get into the habit of reading the questions before reading the text. Ask children to highlight the key word in a question and then to scan the text for the key words and then rapidly read the sentence containing the key word to see if that will provide the answer to the question.

Skimming and scanning are particularly important skills when navigating the vast amount of resources and information contained on the internet. Children need to be able to quickly determine if a particular site is likely to contain the required information and then skim read to locate that information.

The first step in this process is for children to determine the key terms that will be useful in locating a manageable, but useful number of sites. If the terms chosen are too broad, there will be too many sites to navigate.  If the terms chosen are too narrow, there will be insufficient information.

‘Internet Bingo’ is an effective group activity for helping children practise this skill. Provide children with a bingo board on your topic of choice (similar to the one in the image). In pairs students use the internet to attempt to find the answer to as many questions as possible. The goal is to find the answers to all the questions in a row or a column. As soon as one team has achieved ‘bingo’, everyone share their answers to complete the worksheet.