Standard Lesson

Skimming and Scanning: Using Riddles to Practice Fact Finding Online

3 - 5
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
One 45-minute session
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Students are used to looking online for information, but chances are they have difficulty when it comes to finding the information they need quickly and efficiently. The primary focus of this lesson is a teacher-directed activity during which students practice the important skills of skimming, scanning, and searching a preselected website to find answers to riddles. Sample websites and riddles about states in the United States are included, or you can incorporate additional content area topics by changing the websites and riddles.

From Theory to Practice

Students' most common use of the Internet is to search for information. To do so effectively, they must use some of the same skills as when reading print text. But they also need to develop speed and efficiency to find information they seek. Teachers can help students develop media literacy skills by modeling and providing instruction in these skills.

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • Transparencies and overhead projector
  • Computers with Internet access
  • One classroom computer with an LCD projector or large-screen monitor




1. Assign each student in your class a partner. These pairs should be heterogeneous, although you should consider matching ELL students with classmates who share the same native language so that they may converse in their primary languages when necessary.

2. You will need one computer for each pair of students. If necessary, reserve your school’s computer lab for this lesson. If possible, arrange to use an LCD projector as well.

3. Bookmark America’s Story from America’s Library: Explore the States on the computers students will be using. Explore this site.

4. Print the State Riddles: Answer Key and review it. Print a two-sided copy of the Eliminate the State handout for every two students in your class. Make a transparency of this sheet as well. Make one copy of the State Riddles for every two students in your class. You may also choose to create your own riddles that focus on the state or province where you teach.

5. If you use the riddles provided with this lesson plan, students will need to know the following locations: Atlantic Coast, Pacific Coast, Canada, and the Gulf Coast. They should also be familiar with cardinal directions (north, south, east, and west). You may consider including a brief review of these geographical areas and terms. The National Geographic Xpeditions Atlas: Map of the United States may be useful for this purpose.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Develop skills in skimming and scanning online by exploring a website and searching for information to complete riddles

  • Understand the purposes of using skimming and scanning by varying use of these strategies when searching for key information on a website

  • Develop navigational skills by making decisions about where to click on a webpage to locate specific information

  • Adjust reading rate and strategies according to their purpose

Instruction & Activities

Teacher Modeling

1. Seat students so that they may view your computer screen. The use of a video projector or large-screen monitor is ideal for this part of the lesson.

2. Introduce and demonstrate how to navigate a website as follows:

a. Go to America’s Story from America’s Library: Explore the States and provide a brief overview of the page. For example, discuss the title of the page (Explore the States) and tell students that during this activity they will be using this site to locate information to solve riddles about the states.

b. Demonstrate how to click on a state within the map or the list of states from the pull-down menu to navigate to the state of choice. Note: You must click on the abbreviation of the state in the map.

c. Click on a state and show students that once you navigate to the new page you can return to the original map by clicking on either the Explore the States link at the top of the page or the Choose another State link at the end of the description.

3. Discuss the terms skimming and scanning. You might start by asking students what they think these terms mean. You want them to understand that skimming is reading quickly to get the main idea of the text, while scanning is rapidly viewing the text in search of key terms, phrases, or information. During the discussion, ask questions that will help students understand the difference between these strategies and how the use of them differs from careful reading of text. Some possible points that can be discussed include:
  • Deciding whether to read carefully, skim, or scan will be based upon the goal of reading the text. If a reader wants to fully comprehend and not miss any information in the text, he or she should read every word of the text rather than skim or scan it.

  • When readers skim a passage, they increase their reading rate to quickly determine the main idea of a passage.

  • The technique used in skimming is similar to the technique used in completing word search puzzles. The reader determines which key words to search for in the text and then quickly “sweeps” the text in search of those words.
4. To help students differentiate between careful reading, skimming, and scanning, click on Texas on the Explore the States webpage as you pose the following questions:
  • If you wanted to learn all that you could about Texas, which type of reading would you choose – skimming, scanning, or careful reading? Why? (Answer: Careful reading in order to read all of the possible information about the state.)

  • If you wanted to determine the year in which Texas was admitted to the United States, what type of reading would you choose–skimming, scanning, or careful reading? (Answer: Scanning.) Why? (Answer: The goal is to determine one detail about the state.) What key text would you scan for? (Answer: A date.)

  • Once you find a date, what strategy would you use to decide if it is the correct answer? (Answer: Skimming.) Why? (Answer: To determine if the sentence focuses on the date that Texas was admitted to the United States.) What text would you focus on during the skim? (Answer: The sentence containing the date.)
5. Using the Explore the States website, continue to model how to use skimming and scanning as follows:

a. Starting from the main page, tell students that you are interested in learning what is most significant about Idaho. Click on that state or choose it from the drop-down menu.  

b. Using a think-aloud approach, demonstrate how you scan the topics listed on the page including the icons. You might say, “I see this map of Idaho has Boise featured on it. I suppose that the capital of Idaho is Boise.” Or, you may say, “As I scan through this passage here, I see the word potatoes, so I will skim this section of the page to find out more about the significance of potatoes in Idaho.”

c. Review the use of the three reading strategies. You might ask questions such as, “I want to determine the date in which Idaho joined the Union. In other words, my goal is to find out one piece of information. What should I do?” or “I’m becoming so interested in Idaho, so now I want to read about all of the information that is on this site about this state. What should I do?”

d. Show students that below the More Stories About heading, more links are listed that will lead to further information. Tell students that for the purposes of this lesson, they will not need to click on any of the links listed below this title bar on each state. Note: The point of showing students this feature of the site is to prevent them from getting “lost” from this site while searching for information about the states. All information for the riddles will be contained directly on the states’ main pages.
6. Model how to solve a riddle by selecting appropriate links and then skimming and scanning to find the information needed to solve the riddle as follows:

a. Return to the main Explore the States webpage. Tell students that you’re going to work together using skimming and scanning to solve a riddle. Explain that you will read the riddle and then answer one part of the riddle or clue at a time.

b. Write the example riddle on the board and read it aloud: “All of my borders are touching other states. My state flower is goldenrod. My state nickname is ‘The Beef State.’ What state am I?” Number the clues in the riddle and then model how to use the Eliminate the State handout and the Explore the States webpage to begin answering the riddle.

c. Read Clue 1: “All of my borders are touching other states.”

Tell students that you can use the map on the main page to determine which states to eliminate. Cross off all states that do not fit this criterion (e.g., Alaska and Hawaii) on the overhead transparency of the Eliminate the State handout as you discuss why they are definitely not the answer to the riddle.

d. Read Clue 2: “My state flower is goldenrod.” Tell students that the clues are cumulative. You must consider the options determined by Clues 1 and 2 so far. Have students volunteer suggestions for the best way to find this answer. Clicking on each state is the option you will use.

e. Once you arrive at each state’s page, explain how you use scanning to find its state flower by quickly looking for the word flower. While you work, cross off states that do not meet the criteria and circle states that do fit the criteria. When you find a state that has this flower, tell students that more than one state may have the same state flower, so they should check each remaining state. When you finish, the only states remaining will be Nebraska and Kentucky.

f. Read Clue 3: “My state nickname is ‘The Beef State.’” Ask students what they think you should do next. You will click on each state and scan for the words Beef State. Determine that the answer to the riddle is Nebraska.

If students need more modeled practice, work through one or two of the student riddles using the process described above. Otherwise, proceed to the Student Practice section, which can be implemented during a subsequent session if needed.

Student Practice

7. Students should work with the partners you have assigned at computers using their Eliminate the State sheets to solve as many riddles as you have time for them to finish. Five sample riddles are included on the State Riddles handout, or you may choose to write your own riddles to suit other content area objectives. As students work on the riddles, circulate among them to assist when needed and to observe students’ use of skimming and scanning. Use the Online Reading Assessment Checklist to record anecdotal notes. Note: If some pairs of students finish early, have them work on the Extension activity below.


8. Discuss the answers to the riddles and the strategies students used to find the answers.

Ask for specific examples of how students used skimming and scanning to find the answers. For example, you could ask, “In the fourth riddle, what key words did you scan for when you wanted to determine if you would visit the state to travel to Space Camp?” Also, use observational data for discussion prompts. For example, you could say, “I noticed that (student’s name) kept repeating ‘Providence’ when he was solving the first riddle. Can you tell me why he may have been doing this?”

9. Discuss challenges that students faced during the activity. You might ask what part of the activity was most challenging or what was most challenging about navigating the website.  

10. Review the definitions and purposes of skimming and scanning and discuss how these strategies differ from careful reading. Ask students how they use skimming, scanning, and careful reading when they are reading print materials. Remind students that their choice of reading strategy should be based upon the goal of reading the text.


Ask each pair of students to create an original set of riddles based on the America’s Story from America’s Library: Explore the States website. They can then use the riddles to make a crossword puzzle with the online Crossword Puzzles tool. The riddles can be the clues. Students can solve each other’s puzzles online or print and swap puzzles. See Creating Puzzles: A Guide for Teachers for more information.

Student Assessment / Reflections

In addition to assessing students’ response to the riddles, use the Online Reading Assessment Checklist for informal assessment purposes. Based upon your observations, indicate plus (+) or minus (-) in the columns for traits observed and record observational data in the Anecdotal Notes column. Use the results to determine which students would benefit from future instruction in the skills assessed.

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