Learn how to use authentic texts to teach how to scan a text. There is also a sample worksheet and teacher’s notes with tips for you to download.

Reading skills and scanning

Reading is a core receptive skill in second language learning alongside listening. It involves many subskills, such as reading for gist, skimming, scanning, reading for detail etc. Although it seems that reading is students’ strongest skill, they often struggle with scanning the text. This is especially true for authentic texts which quickly get overwhelming due to unfamiliar words or contexts. But scanning (another name for reading for specific information) authentic sources is a key skill since, like everyone else these days, students end up using the internet to look for information, so we should strive to help them develop this subskill.


How to choose a suitable source

Reading for specific information involves identifying the type of information that is required in the answer, scanning the text quickly to locate such information, and a careful reading of the relevant section to determine if the information is in fact the answer.

To use an authentic text for reading for specific information, you need to create a plausible and realistic scenario in which the student would have to find information in the text in an efficient manner.

Consider the following questions:

1. Why would someone be interested in this text? (e.g., interest in the topic, need for the specific information)

2. Why would the students need to find specific information? (e.g., they need to solve a problem, compile relevant information, collect details for a presentation, etc.)

3. What information from the text is relevant for the task that the student needs to pick from the text? (e.g., do they need the names of people or organisations, things, numbers, dates or amounts mentioned in the text?)

4. How can you set up the task to ensure that students are in fact scanning before reading carefully? (e.g., arranging a reading race, setting a time limit to find a piece of information, or challenging students to find as many specifics as possible during a set time.)


How to structure your lesson

Teaching scanning can be introduced with any teaching approach, such as Task-Based learning or Presentation–Practice–Production. When introducing a text for the purpose of scanning, start with engaging students with both the topic of the text and its character. This will activate students’ schemata.

Follow these steps for using authentic news articles for teaching scanning:


Activate students’ schemata when using authentic materials

When using an authentic text, it is important to keep in mind where students might encounter it. Nowadays students are likely to see news articles on the internet or in their social media feed. Activate their knowledge about the topic of an article by having them read the title and subtitle and eliciting what they may know about it before reading. You can ask students what they think about the topic in general, or create a few quick discussion questions as a lead-in.


Get students engaged with authentic texts

Students read the article quickly to understand the main idea. Encourage them to skim the article by setting a time limit of a few minutes and check their predictions.

For engagement with authentic materials, ask students for their personal reactions to the text and to think of the impact on their lives. This will help to engage students more with the text and think of the content in a real-life context that is relevant to them.


Reading for specific information

To practise reading for specific information students need a specific task set up, which you should prepare earlier. This could be a series of very specific questions, or a table, form or a graph with information such as dates or numbers to fill in.

Students start by skimming the text a second time if necessary, to identify the main idea. Remind them that they do not need to read the article carefully at this point, but rather to read quickly and develop a global understanding. Next, they will work on scanning the text for specific information. 

First, model how to identify the type of information. Elicit what kind of information is needed (e.g. a number, a name, a date, a day of the week, an address) by analysing the task.

Next, explain that scanning means moving your eyes very quickly over a text to spot a specific word or phrase. You can illustrate this by asking students to identify something red or a straight black line as quickly as possible in the room around them

Explain that scanning a text is similar, and that they don’t need to think about the meaning of the text or understand what they are reading while they scan.

Thirdly, explain that once they have located the possible words or numbers in the text, that they should then read that sentence or section carefully, more than once if needed, to determine if that is the information that they were looking for. If it is not, encourage them to scan the text further.

Finally, go over the answers as a class. Remember to also point to the places in the text where the answers are.


Follow up

Students summarize key specific information in this article (or the article of their choice) in the form of a mind map. You could include more guidelines like what to include (e.g., Who? What? Where? Why? How many?). Remind students to practice their scanning skills.




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