Online reading skills: Previewing websites

What does a skilled reader do when they first look at a text? They take a moment to preview the text with a simple skim and scan of the whole text BEFORE they commence close reading. It’s a bit like taking a quick look around a room when you enter to notice its layout, and the people and objects within the space. Doing so means that you know what is around you before you sit down and get settled.

Previewing a text can be done really quickly and helps readers ascertain whether or not the text is likely to be suitable for their purpose and written at a level appropriate for their reading skills. Two key questions readers should answer before they commit to reading a text:

  • Will it have the answer I am looking for?
  • Do I understand the way it is written?

The problem we want to discuss today is poor previewing of online texts. Our students have a tendency to forget their previewing skills when the text exists in an online format. It seems that the ability to move the cursor, and subsequently control the reading path by continual clicking, is a distraction present in online texts that is absent in print texts.

This is what poor online previewing skills looks like in our classroom. Both occur when a student first opens a website or online text.

Bad habit 1 – giving up too easily

Looks like: Click and drag the scroll bar in order to rush to the bottom of the web page. Not stopping to read the headings, hyperlink or text. Immediately followed by the decision to abandon the website and return to the search engine results page. Repeat for the next website. And the next. And the next.

Bad habit 2 – forging ahead too quickly

Looks like: Click on the first link that tempts you. Immediately proceed further into the website with additional clicks, without scanning the remainder of the information available on the original webpage. Clicking. Clicking. More clicking. Abandon the website and return to search engine results page. Repeat over and over. And over.

Frustrated at seeing these bad habits even among our skilled readers, we decided to construct a lesson to counter this poor reading behaviour.

What we did

We adapted the activity proposed by Julie Coiro titled ‘Evaluating Relevancy: Previewing a Website’ which is available here   to devise a fun activity that forced our students to preview online texts properly BEFORE selecting one to read closely.

Students had to visit six different websites and preview the information found on the home page. Each website had been chosen by us prior to the lesson and they all had varying degrees of relevance to the task set. Students had to preview the text, give it a rating according to its relevance, and justify reasons for their rating.

Students worked in groups of three. Each group member was allocated one of the following roles:

  • Monitor: kept the group thinking about the purpose of the task
  • Computer operator: controlled the cursor, adhered to the rules
  • Recorder: tracked the discussion about each website and filled in the worksheet

The rules, which are crucial to the success of this task, are as follows:

  • You cannot click on any hyperlinks on this page
  • You may move the cursor and ‘hover’ over particular links to see the options provided
  • You may scroll up and down, and left and right in order to view the entire page.
  • You have only 1 minute to preview each website.
  • When the ‘time’s up’ call is made you must complete the website rating below. You have 1 minute to do this.

Click here to see the task, web site URLs and rating sheet that students completed.  Previewing a Website

Click here to see screen shots of the websites as they appeared on the actual day of the task. Screen Shots of Websites

Click here to see the teacher evaluation of each website. Doing this was really useful as it meant we knew exactly the relevance of each website to the task assigned.  Teacher’s pre-task evaluation of websites

Click below to view a Prezi slide show about online reading comprehension and this task.

What you will need

  1. Laptops or tablet computers – at a ratio of 1 between 3 students – set up in stations around the classroom. One ‘station’ for each website to be previewed.
  2. A simple task for students to complete – outlined in one paragraph or less.
  3. 6 websites, preselected by the teacher, with varying degrees of relevance to the task set.*
  4. A stop watch – we used an online stopwatch and projected this on the screen.

*Hint – have the websites available as hyperlink.  Students often mistype URLs when asked to manually enter them and this distracts from the task.

What we learned

  • It is possible to teach students positive online reading habits, and correct poor habits. As always, they need reminding of good reading practices each time we begin an online reading task.
  • Students wanted to complete their ratings while they previewed. Making a new rule that pens had to be DOWN during the one minute previewing period meant that students actually READ what was on the page and in doing so they actually previewed the text.
  • Students were able to identify a variety of features of online texts which provide hints as to relevance for the task. These include: hyperlinks, logos, author, date, diagrams, images, captions, text, headings, drop-down lists, tabs etc.
  • Having each station of laptops opened to a website, and rotating the students made the exercise more fun, and mean each website was already loaded and ready to go for the each rotation.

About onlinereadingcomprehension

We are teachers at an independent school in Sydney. As we learn more about teaching online reading comprehension we intend to share our work through this blog.
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