Learn how to use authentic texts to teach skimming through a text to your students. There is also a sample worksheet and teacher’s notes with tips for you to download.
Reading skills and skimming
Reading is a core receptive skill in 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 skimming the text. This is especially true for authentic texts which quickly get overwhelming due to unfamiliar words or contexts. However, skimming authentic sources is a key skill since, like everyone else these days, students end up using the internet to look for information.
How to choose a suitable source
Skimming a text means reading a text very quickly to see what it is about and how it is organised. Skimming involves focusing on the parts of a text that contain the main ideas and ignoring the details. This could be the title and subheading, other headings, visual clues like photos or diagrams, and could also include focusing more on the first and last paragraph, as well as the first and possibly last sentence of each paragraph. Skimming an authentic text can be useful for students in many real-life contexts, such as selecting sources of information for research, finding articles for personal interest, or becoming familiar with a text before reading it for more detail.
When choosing a text to practise skimming, consider the following questions:
1. What is the relevance of this text for your students – why would someone be reading this text? (e.g., need to find sources of information or texts for a school research project, interest in a topic for personal reasons, need to identify relevancy of article to later find specific information, etc.)
2. Why would students need to skim the text to identify the main ideas? (e.g., they have come across an article that might be relevant or that they might be interested in, but they need to decide quickly if this is the case)
3. Is this text suitable for skimming? (e.g., does it contain paragraphs with topic sentences and supporting ideas, or is it sparse, and consists mostly of specific information?)
4. Could this be a good first step to set up another skill-development task? (e.g., reading for detail, summary writing, inferring meaning of new words using context, class discussions about a topic, etc.)
How to structure your lesson
Teaching skimming can be introduced with any teaching approach, such as Task-Based learning or Presentation–Practice–Production. When introducing a text for the purpose of skimming, 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 skimming:
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.
Explain to students that skimming a text is to read it quickly with a specific purpose, like understanding the main ideas or finding specific information. Set a timer and give students one minute to skim the article (or the first section, if it is a longer piece) to understand its main idea.
Adjust time to the length of the article. For longer articles, you can ask them to skim only a section of the text first. Ask them then to decide if their predictions were correct. Allow students to share their initial impressions of the article and what they have concluded about their predictions. If students feel confident to identify the overall idea, allow them to continue with this; if students need a second skimming, give them another minute to read before asking them to identify the main idea.
Practice skimming on individual sections of the text
Students practice their skimming skills by quickly reading each section and then choosing the sentence that contains the main idea. Remind students that it is not advisable to read the text word for word. Students should instead move their eyes over the paragraphs quickly, focusing on a general sense of the information contained in the section. If students simply revert to existing reading habits, setting a timer for each section can be helpful.
If you are working with a low-level class such as pre-intermediate and your base text is short, like a leaflet, bring a few texts so students can practice skimming multiple times.
A good follow-up is to have students look for more articles online about the same topic and practice their skimming skills to identify main ideas and select the most relevant article. They can also work in pairs and choose an article for each other to skim quickly.
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Teaching with Authentic Materials — Skimming