What are Skimming and Scanning?

Skimming and scanning are both speed reading techniques used when a reader wants to get information from a text as quickly as possible. However, you’ll want to remember that skimming and scanning are different processes for obtaining information.

  • Skimming – to use this technique, pupils must read a text, identifying essential words and phrases to understand the text’s content. However, they mustn’t read every line when skimming a text.
  • Scanning – with scanning, pupils must read every single line. But, first, they’ll scan each line, picking out essential words and phrases to identify relevant facts and information.

When to use skimming and scanning

Skimming and scanning aren’t just used in English; it’s a handy transferable skills that children can use in subjects across the national curriculum. Skimming and scanning are especially helpful in subject areas or school projects that are research focussed.

  • History scanning is helpful for research-based activities, such as creating fact files about historical figures. For example, maybe they must find the names of Henry VIII’s six wives or Mary Seacole’s date of birth. Here, children must scan texts to pick out relevant information to put in their fact files.
  • History – skimming also comes in handy in this subject. By skimming, children will quickly get a feel for what type of text they are looking at. Whether, for example, it’s a diary entry written by a child who lived through the fire in London or a historian’s account of this historic event. They will then quickly identify whether it is a primary or secondary source without reading through the entire text.

Imagine just how much longer it would take children to find out the same information if they read these texts word for word instead of using their skimming and scanning skills.

You might also challenge your pupils to name how they already use skimming and scanning in their everyday lives. Can they add to this list?

  • When looking for a friend or relative’s name in their mobile contacts list.
  • When searching for a challenging word in a dictionary or thesaurus.
  • When looking through a recipe book’s contents page to find the right page for spinach pakoras.

Top tips for effecting skimming and scanning

  • When skimming and scanning are used most effectively, they can be helpful for research and revision. Here are some tips to help your pupils get the most out of this reading technique.
  • When skimming and scanning, ensure pupils take note of the headings, subheadings, lists, images, and any bolded text.
  • When skimming, pay close attention to the first and last paragraphs. For many texts, this will let pupils know what the text will be about and what conclusions it has drawn.
  • Before scanning, it can help pupils have a list of exactly what they are looking for; this will help them stay focused and not get distracted by interesting, irrelevant information.
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