develop strong reading skills early: skimming vs reading

strong reading skills skimmingI realized something recently that I should have noticed way before now.

Actually, I had an idea about it, but I wasn’t really for sure for sure.

One of my children has a tendency to move quickly through tasks, working hard to get anything she’s doing finished–but not really paying super close attention to detail.

And this has transferred to her reading: she does a whole lot more skimming while reading than actually reading while reading.

Yes, she can read.

I know that. In fact, she loves to read.

But she’s ‘reading’ so quickly—moving through books so fast now—that I am worried she’s falling into some really poor reading habits, and I’m out to stop it asap.

Here’s the skinny.  . .

  • Develop Strong Reading Skills Early– Skimming vs Reading: Many nights Maddy goes to bed with a pile of books—books that she loves and has read and re-read many times.

I’m fine with that because I want that time before bed—and after we’ve read together—to be purely

pleasurable reading time, all for her.

But lately I’ve questioned the speed with which she’s reading some of her new books on her own; she had been moving really quickly through books that should have taken a bit longer, and she admitted that she wasn’t passing her Accelerated Reader tests at school.

develop strong readers early: skimming vs reading

Eggs, water, and oil were ready.  But something was missing.

This was the real eye-opener for me.

When I asked her how she’s reading so fast, she said, Mommy, I like to ‘skim read’. That way I can get to the good parts faster.

Hmmm. Lovely argument.

Her response made me wonder how much my rush, rush, rush tendencies have rubbed off on her.  Though she’s able to delay gratification with other things—saving money vs spending, claiming that she eats her sandwich at school before her cookies—why was she rushing through texts, and how could I show her that by doing so, she’s missing some really important pieces?

How could I show her that skimming is okay–and suggested!–for some texts but not for others?

develop strong readers early: skimming vs reading

Ahhh, the mix. Yes, the mix.

This weekend, when she asked if she could make quick pumpkin bread on her own—without my help—I thought it could be an absolute perfect time to show her that skimming is not always a good idea.

And it was.

I told her I’d let her go—from start to finish–solo, but she called for help early in.

Where’s the teaspoon thing? I can’t find the teaspoon for the oil part. It says ‘2 teaspoons of oil.’

I looked at the box.  It said tablespoon.  And the tablespoon measure was right there staring up at her from the drawer.

Check again, Maddy.  Make sure you’ve got it right before we go scouring the kitchen for lost utensils.

It says right here (pointing to the box) 2 teasp–.  Oh. Wait. Okay, so tablespoon. Two tablespoons.develop strong readers early: skimming vs reading

Right. Good eye, and I’m glad you double-checked. If you didn’t add enough oil, your cake would be really dry.

She grabbed the tablespoon, poured in the oil, and was on her merry way.

A few minutes later: Mom, something’s not right. I added the eggs and water and the oil but where’s the like cake part?

It says, ‘mix eggs and oil and water’, but is that right?

I looked at the box.  It didn’t say ‘mix eggs and oil and water’; it said, Combine: Mix, oil, eggs, and water.  She was skimming and missed a biggie.

Maddy.  Check again, Sweetheart. Make sure you are correct in reading the directions.

She looked at the box.  It says right here (pointing to the box again) Mix, oil, eggs, and water.  So what’s wrong? I’m supposed to mix this stuff together.

Look again, Maddy, and pay close attention to all of the words and the punctuation. It’s all there for a reason, Honey.  From commas to colons, it’s all included for a reason.

She read again, this time throwing in ‘combine’:  See? Combine mix, oil, eggs, and water. Ooooohhhhhh.  I thought that the ‘mix’ was telling me to mix everything, not that it meant the stuff in the box—the cake mix.

Right. Biiiiig difference, right? So skimming on recipe-reading could mean huge problems for your cake-making. You must move more slowly, take some time, and read every single thing on the box—it’s all important.  By skipping over ‘Combine’ you misunderstood some pretty simple instructions.

You can do this.  Start from ‘Combine’, read closely, and let’s get this cake in the oven.

And so she did.   I only helped hold the heavy bowl as she poured it into the cake batter pan, and later on we all enjoyed some fabulous, warm pumpkin bread thanks to Maddy.

develop strong readers early: skimming vs reading

Once she got rolling, she had. Solo.

It was a learning experience for both Maddy and me. I saw first-hand how she’s skimming, and so did she.

We talked later, at bedtime, about the difference between skimming and reading and what happened earlier in the afternoon with her pumpkin bread.

There’s definitely a time for skimming, I said.  But you need to figure out when it’s a good idea to skim and when you need to read closely, making sure you understand what you’re reading.

I know, she said.  I knowBut no skimming recipes.

Skimming recipes is great when you’re making a grocery list, but not while you’re making the food, right? I asked.But there are some times when skimming is okay.  We can talk about that tomorrow. For now, how about you enjoy your book and turn the light off in five minutes?

I didn’t want to push too much or make her feel uncomfortable, but we develop strong readers early: skimming vs readingwill carry on this conversation for sure–another time.

I like how Tamim Ansary puts it in her article, How to Read (and Not Read) a Book. Though she’s talking about speed of reading, she also talks about skimming:

With reading . . . you can set your own pace. You can skim for an overview, zoom in for details, slow down for deep stuff, soar again to see big connections — there may be an upper limit to your speed, but it’s elastic.

She goes on:

In fact, reading for information may entail reading at many speeds, in many ways: skimming whole chapters, crawling through others while painstakingly reading every word, scanning for particular facts, and jumping from later pages to earlier pages. If you’re doing research, the book is a forest; you’re a hunter stalking game. What the author put in is less important than what you intend to take out.

But read a novel like that and you’ll surely miss what the book has to offer. In fact, nothing said about reading applies universally. . . It’s not just that there are many ways to read. It’s that reading is many different activities.

I love how succinctly she puts it.

Self-monitoring during reading is something I’ll definitely practice with Maddy the next few days and weeks, but until then, I’d say that this recipe-reading-skimming was a pretty solid learning in the every day experience.

Do you have any tips or ideas for handling ‘skimmers’?  I’m always up for learning more–please leave ideas in the comments and let me know!


fyi: This blog post is part of an incentivized online influencer network for Mom’s Homeroom. Mom’s Homeroom is brought to you by Frosted Mini-Wheats.




  1. says

    I’m glad you wrote this, Amy, and I agree with everything except that there’s a time for skimming. I don’t think it’s ever good to skim because you always miss out on something – even on grocery lists. (I can’t tell you how many times my husband missed an item on the list because he skimmed it! lol)

    I think it stems from teaching to the test: as soon as we started giving students timed reading tests we sent them the message that close reading is bad, skimming is good. The Common Core State Standards are emphasizing close reading, and yet timed reading assessments are STILL being used to evaluate students. Something is wrong with this equation. I have never had a job (or a boss) that encouraged me to skim and skip over anything I read. We are doing our students a disservice by teaching skimming because it’s carrying over into everything–like baking bread! :) Until more people speak up about it (and point out the hypocrisy in timed reading tests), I don’t think it’ll change.

    Thank you so much for addressing this issue, Amy!

    • amy says

      Hey Tracee!! Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to respond! I do think this discussion merits a response because as a reading specialist and former high school English teacher, I feel strongly that as teachers we need to teach students that they have to learn to pull out sorts of different strategies for every situation and that skimming is, in fact, not always the ‘wrong’ thing. When I taught Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton, to my 9th graders, there were serveral passages full of scientific jargon that often stymied even my strongest reader. The kids did not need to read these passages super-close because quite frankly, it wasn’t imperative to understanding the story. For many kids, this novel was the first ‘biggie’ of their lives, and they could very well understand and appreciate the plot, character, and thematic elements without totally wasting hours trying to wrap their heads around the scientific parts. No, I did not tell them to skim the whole book; rather, as a strategy, I invited them to skim to get the basics of these difficult passages and then move on so they could really focus on the rest. I think as students become learners in the digital age, skimming is also important when figuring out if a website is reliable and valid–it’s a strategy that needs to be taught, modeled, and talked about, both as a study skill and reading skill.

      • says

        I think that’s a valid point, Amy. I agree that “super close” reading is definitely not necessary for every page of the book. But the idea of skimming literature makes me wonder, what’s the point of reading it? I probably wouldn’t assign it at all if it’s something they would need to skim.

        I think the website skimming is a very good point, too. I was primarily thinking of literature, so thank you for pointing that out! :)

        • amy says

          Tracee–good point as well. I definitely would say that skimming literature is not a common message I promote; however, Jurassic Park is kind of unusual in the scientific jargony passages, and, at the time, it was a no-brainer choice in comparison to the other choices I had to teach. :)

  2. says

    I can understand the skim-read to get to the good parts but will she slow down during the 2nd re-read or the one after that? Maybe if she is willing to read 2x everything– once fast, one slow — this is ok?

    • amy says

      Good question, my friend. I don’t know, to be honest. It’s worth looking into, but as a lifelong skill, reading one text 2x’s is just not practical, right? hmmmmm…

  3. Erica Shidle says

    I have found with my 7 year old daughter that math word problems have helped her become a more thorough reader. Also the written response questions require her to think about her answer and communicate the process. The quality of her writing for her math problems is so different (concise and clear) compared to her rambling narratives in her writing journal. I think the reading for a purpose that you demonstrated with the recipes was a great example.

    • amy says

      So interesting, Erica!! Thank you so much for sharing–I agree–math problems really require close reading, and I may just bring a few more of them out as well. Can’t hurt, right!? Huge thanks for reading and thanks a million for taking the time to write!

  4. Brandy says

    Something hilarious happened today that made me think of this post. We were at the grocery store and out of the blue my five year old says, “What cats do we return, Mama?” I asked him what he was talking about and he pointed to the sign that said “Please Return Carts Here.” Hahaha! I told him to read more closely and he immediately caught it but we had a great laugh over it. It will definitely be one of our inside jokes from here on out.

    • amy says

      BRANDY. I LOVE it. Thank you so so much for sharing–makes me feel like I”m not so alone, my friend. And what a FUN inside joke between you two from here on out. You are seriously one of my faves in the whole wide world. xo


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