Literal comprehension

Skimming is reading quickly through a text to get the gist or main idea. Students can skim read by looking at headings and subheadings, pictures, diagrams, captions, any italicised or bold words, and the first and last paragraphs of the text.

Scanning is reading to locate particular elements or specific details in a text, such as key concepts, names, dates or certain information in answer to a question. Students can scan by looking through the text to locate key words to find the specific information quickly.

Activity 1: skim reading using the conventions of texts

Tell students while reading, to ask themselves the following questions to help you decide whether or not to skim. If they answer yes to any of these, then skimming is a useful tool.

  • Is this material nonfiction?
  • Do I have a lot to read and only a small amount of time?
  • Do I already know something about this?
  • Can any of the material be skipped?

Students need to be familiar with the purpose of the conventions in nonfiction texts before they can use them to skim read.

Teachers identify what the conventions of nonfiction text are and how they help us as readers. The teacher should bring in examples of at least five places in nonfiction texts that support that convention. Then the students can look for the conventions and share them with a partner, small group or whole group. Students need to identify how each convention helps them as a reader as well as identifying the purpose.

It is best to familiarise students with just one or two conventions at once to avoid confusion.

Conventions and their purpose:

  • labels identify a picture or photograph and/ or is parts
  • comparisons identify the size of one thing by comparing it to something familiar
  • photographs identify exactly what something looks like
  • captions provide a better understanding of a picture or photograph
  • cutaways look at something from the inside
  • close-ups show details in something small
  • maps show where things are in relation to each other
  • types of print signal importance, for example, size of font for headings, italic font for titles or scientific names, bold font for glossary or key words
  • table of contents identifies key topics in a book in the order they are presented
  • index is an alphabetical list of everything covered in the text with page numbers
  • glossary contains definitions of some specific words contained in the text.

Activity 2: scanning

Students should scan when the aim is to find specific pieces of information. First, give students permission to NOT read everything.

Next identify the way in which information is arranged, for example, alphabetically, chronologically, by category or textually. Show students how to use their fingers to keep their place. This focuses their attention while scanning a column of information. Point out that this also allows their peripheral vision to see the names above and below the name being pointed to by the finger.

When information is arranged textually students may need to scan sub-headings or read topic sentences in paragraphs (skim read), to decide which paragraph will contain the required information and need to be scanned.


Australian curriculum

ACELY1702: Texts in context: Navigate and read texts for specific purposes applying appropriate text processing strategies, for example predicting and confirming, monitoring meaning, skimming and scanning.

NSW syllabus

EN3-3A: Navigate and read texts for specific purposes applying appropriate text processing strategies, for example predicting and confirming, monitoring meaning, skimming and scanning.

NSW literacy continuum

Reading texts, Cluster 11, Marker 5: Uses text navigation skills such as skimming and scanning to efficiently locate specific information in literary, factual and electronic texts.

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