Skimming and Scanning

Skimming and scanning are two rapid reading techniques. Anyone teaching young or weak readers will notice that they tend to read every word. Skimming and scanning are essential techniques for learners to develop as they become more proficient readers. Scanning is fast reading used to find the answers to questions while skimming is fast reading to find the general idea of a text.

A good way to illustrate to students the importance of these techniques is to ask them to find a word in the dictionary. Any student with basic dictionary skills will first flip till he or she finds the page with the correct first letter, followed by looking for the entry based on the guide words, followed by scanning the page for the correct word. Unless students have no experience using a dictionary, they will very unlikely start reading the first page to find the definition of the word preposterous.

Students can probably think of other times that they skim or scan material outside of school: movie times, restaurant menus, troubleshooting guides, ect.

Here are a few techniques from Gipe’s Multiple Paths to Literacy: Assessment and Differentiated Instruction for Diverse Learners, K-12 that I have found useful for helping students develop scanning and skimming:

  • Give students menus and ask them to find items that cost below a certain amount of money.
  • Ask students find a certain number of verbs (or another part of speech) from a passage within a certain amount of time and continually decrease the amount of time or increase the number of words they need to find with each practice.
  • Grab books from the library and have students skim the books then share the general idea with a group.
  • Give students questions they need to answer from the classified section of a newspaper. For example: How much does a 2006 Dodge Stratus cost? Or what is the cheapest riding lawnmower available?
  • Prepare questions related to the table of contents or the index in a content area book. For example, which page has information about Eugene Debs?