Skimming and Scanning: What’s the difference?

Reading Strategies
When it comes to reading in a second language, strategies are every learner’s best friend. Making sure you start off with an engaging text that contains words you already know is step one in employing a new strategy . But being aware of how the strategy works and what it is designed to do is also an important part of the equation.

You’ve probably heard of skimming and scanning, two activities at the top of the list of the most commonly employed strategies for first and second language reading alike. But did you know they are geared to help you understand a text in two different ways? So, how can you know which one to use and when?

Skimming–Reading for main idea
Many learners find it is helpful to employ a skimming strategy when they need to quickly ascertain the gist of a text. Skimming is a top-down strategy that helps you activate prior knowledge on a given topic to provide a basis for making inferences  and integrating new information gleaned from the text.

When you allow your eyes to quickly run over sentences in order to understand the main idea through keywords, you are using a skimming strategy. With skimming, it’s all about spending time on the introduction and topic sentence so you have a general idea of what you are reading about before you skim through the rest  and process topical words that re-inforce your understanding of the main idea. You certainly don’t pick up on everything with this technique, and chances are you will miss out on the nuances and details of the text, but that’s what scanning’s for!

Scanning–Reading for detail
When you are looking for a specific piece of information, scanning is the right strategy for you. For example, you may not care what the article says about the growing popularity of high school athletic programs, you just want to know what they have to say about basketball so you scan the text for related keywords. Instead of filtering out detailed information as you would do in skimming, you are actively looking for details that match your query. That means you disregard every word you come across until something appears which is closely linked to basketball and then you pause and focus in on the target word to see what the article has to say.

Many learners find running a finger across printed text helps them scan more effectively. When you read on a mobile device, scrolling strategically can help you achieve the same results. Remember, with scanning you need to focus your attention on one thing and then engage a close reading of select portions of the text until you feel your question has been answered. With scanning, a dictionary can sometimes be your best friend as looking up unknown words in a sentence gives you a more comprehensive understanding of the content. But don’t feel overwhelmed if you end up juggling a few new terms at a time.   mobile dictionary is there to make a flashcard for every word you look up so you can move on with your reading and practice the new vocabulary later.

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