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Improving Reading Skills: Teaching Students to Skim and Scan

compiled by George Staten

January 30, 2007

Effective readers know how to vary their attention level as they read. Depending on the relevance of the material and the purpose for reading, good readers vacillate between the following attention levels:
Active Reading: Full, careful reading of the text, seeking full comprehension, re-reading, looking for relationships between ideas.
Skimming: Reading to determine the overall gist or sense of a text, noting available information without as much concern about grasping specific facts and details.
Scanning: Looking over a page to find specific information such as a fact or definition.
Inexperienced readers assume they must always sustain active reading throughout the whole text. They are sometimes unaware of the strategies of skimming and scanning, or are unsure how to employ them. These students can waste valuable study time struggling through irrelevant material. They benefit from learning to vary attention levels as well as from encouragement that it is not cheating to do so, but rather a valuable reading skill.
How to skim:
- Have research questions or categories in mind before beginning.
- Don't read word for word; group words into clusters.
- Access clues such as headings, illustrations, charts, captions, and bold type.
- Let your eyes travel over the page, looking for key words or phrases.
- Read first and last sentences of paragraphs. First sentences state the topic of the paragraph. Last sentences conclude ideas and lead to the next paragraph.
- Sweep the page more than once, looking for clues and patterns.
How to scan:
-Identify the specific information needed before beginning. For example, "I need to know what an apothecary is. "
-Let your eyes travel the page, grouping words into clusters, until you see what you are looking for.

Improving Reading Skills: Teaching Students to Skim and Scan

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