Extensive, intensive, or narrow reading? What is skimming and scanning?
English learners are often asked to read in diverse ways in the classroom. Some are asked to read orally and sound out each word. Others are told to read silently for comprehension. However, when reading silently, should learners skim for essential meanings or scan for key details? Or should they focus on linguistic features and practice reading strategies?
Before we can address these questions and find a suitable reading approach, let’s examine what the different reading types are.
Oral reading involves the teacher or students reading aloud and helps students to develop prosody, improving their intonation, tone, stress, and rhythm. Silent reading consists of intensive, extensive, and narrow reading, amongst others.
Intensive reading refers to reading in detail with specific learning aims and tasks. It is typically classroom-based, and students focus on features such as grammar and discourse markers. Students also identify key vocabulary, and text is read carefully and repeatedly with instructor input. The aim is to build language knowledge and understanding of literal meaning, implications, and rhetorical relationships. The materials used are usually shorter texts of 500 words or less at a time because it might be too difficult to focus on so many details with longer texts.
Narrow reading can be classified as a specific type of intensive reading. It is based on the concept of comprehensible input, which limits the materials students read to text slightly above their current linguistic abilities. In this way, students can easily focus on new language features with the aid of their teacher. When practicing narrow reading, teachers can find texts by the same author or the same topic. Thus, key vocabulary and grammatical structures repeat themselves, and students get many opportunities to see these features in slightly different contexts. It is a highly successful method because the comprehension of the text is enhanced due to learner familiarity with the author and subject matter.
Extensive Reading, Scanning & Skimming
On the other hand, extensive reading entails reading longer texts and even complete novels for enjoyment, and it aids learners in developing general reading skills. Extensive reading is usually done outside the classroom because teachers might feel it is not an effective use of class time, or are just uncomfortable with the extended silence.
Scanning and skimming are two skills commonly used in extensive reading. Readers can scan for key details or skim for essential meaning. Reading quickly with skimming and scanning can give readers a global or general understanding of the materials. This does not mean students cannot skim or scan when reading intensively, but typically, intensive reading focuses on learning and understanding linguistic features. Extensive reading is stressed in contemporary education policies, as learners are expected to be autonomous and read outside of class. At its core, extensive reading encourages language learners to read what they like!
How should you read?
Now that you have a glimpse of different reading approaches, have you decided which you will use? The “answer" is that you need each for a different situation! You can practice extensive reading when reading for pleasure, or intensive reading when analyzing paragraphs with your teachers and peers. As for narrow reading, you can find articles by the same author on the same topic and focus on language features. Some might even want to practice oral reading to improve prosody or repeated reading to increase fluency.
Gardner, D. (2008). Vocabulary recycling in children’s authentic reading materials: A corpus-based investigation of narrow reading. Reading in a Foreign Language, 20(1), 92-122.
Krashen, S. (2004). The case for narrow reading. Language Magazine 3(5):17-19.
MacLeod, M. (2013). Types of Reading. Retrieved April 14, 2020, from https://slllc.ucalgary.ca/Brian/611/readingtype.html