Parent Tips · Teaching

Things Good Readers Do: Skim and Scan

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Here it is: Part Two of the Things Good Readers Do series!

In Part 1, we talked about the habits of good readers, which, when practiced, is how people become lifelong readers. If you’re new here, you might want to read the series introduction before diving in here today.

In Part 2, we’ll be discussing the habits of thought (aka “reading strategies”) that good readers regularly and automatically employ when reading books. When implemented, these strategies increase the comprehension (and thereby enjoyment) of what you actually read.

As I tell my students often, “The point of reading is to understand what you read. And everything I teach you helps you understand even more!”

I will freely admit now that this second part of the series will probably interest teachers the most, and grownups at home second, since these two categories of people are the ones who primarily instill these habits of thought in young readers.

However, I hope that some of you who fall in neither category will learn some things too!

Maybe you’re someone with kids in your life who are neither your students nor in your primary care, but you’d still like some tips on how to help them grow as readers. Perhaps, instead, you’re someone who just loves reading so much (like me) that learning how people become better readers fascinates you! #lifelonglearners

Most likely, along with my avid student-readers, you’ll say “Ohhhh that’s what I’m doing when I read?”

Or you might think, like some of them, that you don’t do these things.

Au contraire! The truth is, if you don’t think you do them, then they’re already automatically happening in that amazing brain of yours.

And you should thank whoever read with you as a child for helping you develop those abilities without you even noticing that they were teaching you! mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha we sneaky teachers do love when kids learn without knowing they’re learning 🙂

What can you expect in this second part of the series?

Pretty similar things to the first part.

I will:

Let’s get to it!

Today’s Strategy: Skim & Scan

Skimming gives a a reader an overview of the text.
Photo by Joshua Welch on

Oh readers. If I can just tell you this one thing that absolutely revolutionized my reading instruction, it is this weird-sounding acronym:


It’s pronounced “scoopders” (or “scoopters”? Whichever way makes sense to you.)

And here’s what it stands for:

  • S – Survey the text (Or I say, “Skim and Scan”)
  • Q – Question
  • P – Predict
  • 2R – Read and Respond (it’s 2 words that begin with R. You trackin’ with me? Awesome.)
  • S – Summarize

When my fantastically amazing English-teaching colleague Leanna (Hi Leanna!) introduced me to this acronym in my first couple of years in Ecuador, I wanted to cry with happiness.


Because this acronym gives students concrete strategies to use with every. single. text. they’ll ever read. Truly. You can use this with a poem, a biography, a novel, a newspaper article, or a recipe.

These strategies are what good readers do – plain and simple.

So we’re going to talk about *most* of them in this part of the series, since it’s how I begin my reading instruction each year.

The great thing about these strategies is you can use them with whatever story/novel study/curriculum excerpt/whatever you are using (or reading with your small charges at home).

Today, I’m going to dissect the first strategy, Survey the Text, for you.

First things first, as awesome as Leanna is, she did not invent this acronym. It’s fairly well-known among universities and education people, though I’m not sure why I never heard of it until I’d been teaching for a few years. I actually don’t know who exactly came up with it. But I am adding to the many pages on the internet that talk about it. 🙂

It’s especially well-liked when teaching language learners, but…what’s good for them is usually good for all the learners too.

Anyhow, what does it mean to “survey” the text?

Essentially, it’s getting an idea of what’s in the thing you’re reading before you actually sit down and read every word.

Primary grade teachers introduce this concept as “previewing” the book.

Think about what you do when you pick up a book (or hear of a book) that you think might be a good fit for you.

What do you do?

You glance at the front cover, quickly read the back, and maybe flip through the first few pages and quickly read some of it, though perhaps not every word, to see if it seems like a good book for you.

The thing is, while some people might seem to naturally acquire this habit of surveying the text, most people need to be taught it outright. Most people need to have a model for how to interact with a text.

That’s why I teach this strategy to my students each year.

How Do I Teach This?

Photo by Katerina Holmes on

To start, I explain and demonstrate the first purpose of surveying the text: skimming quickly to get a general overview.

Later, when I’m talking about responding to reading, I teach about scanning for specific information.

These are the two main purposes for surveying the text:

Good readers, when approaching a text for the first time, try to get a general sense of what the text is about. They look over the title, headings/subsections, and look quickly over the main text for words that are repeated or ideas that seem to “pop out” at them.

When they are looking for specific information, they do essentially the same thing. Readers might look for a specific passage, in which case, they’re skimming through to look for the familiar parts that they know came right before or after in order to pinpoint what they’re looking for. Or, they might be researching a specific topic and not want to waste their time reading every single word.

The important thing that I always emphasize is that skimming is not reading every word. It’s incredible how many of my students have a hard time with this – especially the language learners and struggling readers.

I have some knowledge of their experience, having been a language learner myself (of Spanish) for the last several years. It’s a bit difficult to describe the experience, but when you are learning a language, skimming is a bit like your brain slogging through mud. Or perhaps taking two steps forward and one to three steps back as you’re trying to figure out the gist of the text. It is not really fast, even though “looking quickly” is the eventual goal.

Why? First, because as language learners, we don’t always know which words are important.

For instance, when I’m reading a text with my Spanish tutor, sometimes I’ll be able to figure out which word is important to my comprehension. However, other times, I’ll see a word that seems inconsequential, but when she tells me the meaning, I realize it changed the whole complexion of the text.

Second, young readers and language learners are still learning so much vocabulary – and it makes a big difference in their understanding! If I don’t know a specific word, I probably won’t pay as much attention to it, because I’m paying attention to the stuff that I do understand to try to “get it” as much as I can without having to look up a word or ask someone who knows. It’s the same with the kiddos.

But if they don’t know a word that is essential to understanding the meaning of the text, they could miss the point completely.

Thus, it’s crucial that I model and “think out loud” about how to skim so that they can practice.

So here, in detail, is how I teach this to my students.

First, I have them take notes in a foldable I created using the notes from Leanna.

A foldable, I find, keeps the kids a bit more engaged than just take boring notes on boring lined notebook paper. And for some reason, unfolding the the foldable just feels a bit like opening a present, because you don’t know exactly what you’ll find inside! (Although when you open it, it’s not often as exciting as a present.)

As they take notes, I explain:

  • the definition
  • how we do it before, during, and after reading
  • examples in regular, daily life when they use it and how they’ll just need to apply the skill to reading

Model the Strategy

After I explain about the strategy, I model it.

Modeling is critical, because students need to see and hear an “expert” reader doing this.

So let’s say I have a text called, “The Life of Julie Andrews” that I’m using to give students some information about the author of The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles before we read it.

I will model and think out loud, like this:

“Okay, the title is ‘The Life of Julie Andrews.’ I wonder who Julie Andrews is. Let me take a quick look at the text.”

I skim through, running my finger down the page and read aloud the things I notice: “Okay, this heading says ‘Early Life’ and there’s a map of England here. I bet she was born, or grew up, in England.”

“Here’s another heading: ‘On the Stage.’ I also notice the words “singing” and “performing.” That’s making me think she did was in dramas or musicals or something.”

“Oh wow, I see the titles Despicable Me, Mary Poppins, and Princess Diaries! She must have been part of those movies somehow!”

By telling out loud the things I’m noticing as I skim (specific words that I notice, the headings, and the images), I’m giving them an example of things they can notice.

Practice Together

Then, I have them practice with me on another text. By having students look on their own and then share out loud, students can hear even more examples of what to look for and notice. Hearing the thoughts of their peers also gives them support while they practice.

Practice Independently

Finally, I have them practice on their own and record what they notice in writing.

Having them write down their observations from skimming does a couple of things:

  1. As a teacher, it helps me see how they’re doing on this skill and guides my future instruction. Especially if a student is taking forever when “skimming,” it tells me they’re reading too many words and need more practice looking quickly, not reading.
  2. As students, it allows them to pinpoint some things they noticed and develop a greater awareness of their own thought processes while reading (metacognition)

The most important thing though, is PRACTICE all year long. Over and over and over again. Developing skills as a reader requires repetition, not just learning something as a one-and-done type of deal.

Side note: This is one of my biggest pet peeves about the way some places/people approach reading instruction. They march through the standards as if, once they teach it, the kids have mastered it. That may work for some things in science and social studies, but it doesn’t work in reading and writing, or even in math.

So in my classroom, we practice skimming before every text that we read (as much as possible).

We also move on to learn the second purpose for skimming: how to identify specific information in a text.

This, too, needs to be modeled, practiced together, and practiced independently.

For instance, I might model how to find specific information in the text like this:

“Okay, the question asks what the funny old man was wearing. I remember that the funny old man started talking to the kids right after the giraffe tried to eat Lindy’s treat. I think the description was on the left-hand page, near the bottom. I’m going to skim for the words giraffe and hot chocolate, and also look on the bottom halves of the pages to find that spot.”

See, good readers will remember about how far through the book an event or person was introduced. Some of them will also even remember how far down on the page and which side the information was on. This helps them locate information more quickly while skimming.

Another part of skimming for specific information is knowing what words to look for. Especially when answering a particular question. Kids have to practice identifying key words in a question, and also their synonyms, in order to know what to look for. Thinking about what key words to look for also needs to be modeled.

Once I’ve explained and modeled this behavior explicitly a few times, we practice together with our class read-alouds, and practice again with comprehension questions that I ask them. Or, sometimes, a student will ask me a question about a character and I tell them, “Oh, that’s something you can find on your own. Skim and scan for the answer!”

All of these instances give them ample time and breadth of experience in seeing the general overview of, and finding specific information in, a text.

Tips for Grownups at Home

Photo by olia danilevich on

While I don’t recommend giving your kids a foldable and having them take notes at home (that would be a little weird), you can still use the same approach: model, practice together, and practice alone .

Here are some ideas:

  • With your pre-readers and early readers, spend a lot of time modeling how to get a general sense of the text and think out loud. Look at the table of contents with them, read the front and back covers, and point out headings or chapter titles. Ask them to find specific information via the photos or illustrations (“How does this character feel? Angry? Oh, yes, I agree: their face does look angry.”)
  • As your kids start to become readers, have them verbalize what they’re noticing, and then add your own pertinent observations. This gives them the chance to practice, but also lends your expert support. (“Oh, yes, that’s a great thing to notice! I bet the book will explain that part of the picture. I noticed _____ about the picture too.” Or, “Yes, you’re right, the word ‘dog’ is repeated a lot. I also noticed words about ‘outside’ things.”)
  • Once your young charges are fairly independent, have them explain to you what a book is generally about before checking it out from the library (or buying it from a store). If they can’t tell you much, have them look at both covers and skim the first few pages and then tell you. If you’re reading a book together, ask them to reiterate or explain specific information and, if they’re unsure, direct them to find the answer in the text using the practice of skimming and scanning to find the spot that will give them the information that they need.

The great thing about being a grownup at home is that you have plenty of informal time to help them practice and, most likely, years of time – unlike teachers, who only have one academic year to help them practice these reading skills and habits.

Modeling and supporting your child in these reading skills is so natural when they’re little, because you’re already modeling and supporting their practice in all the zillions of things they’re learning – holding a spoon (and pencil), tying their shoes, brushing their teeth, getting dressed, folding clothes, doing chores around the house, etc.

Just add in skimming and scanning to your regular reading routine (which you should do daily) as one more thing you do to help them learn and practice!

Previous posts in this series:
Series Introduction
Part 1: Habits of Good Readers
Finding Just Right Books
Abandoning Books
Setting Goals & Tracking Reading
Make it a Habit
Talk About Books

6 thoughts on “Things Good Readers Do: Skim and Scan

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