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news & tips

A collection of helpful articles on teachers and teaching

Getting Ready to Read: Pre-Reading Activities for Every Classroom

“My curriculum is huge; I ‘ll never cover everything as it is.”
 “I don ‘t have time to teach reading. These kids should already know how to read!”
 “My teachers always just told us the pages to read and which questions to answer. It worked for me.”


Maybe you ‘ve heard one of those statements from a colleague recently.  While reading instruction is improving and test scores are rising, there is still much to be done if we hope to prepare our students to be successful, life-long lovers of reading.  It ‘s crucial that these efforts expand beyond the reading and language arts classrooms into every class.  One of the major obstacles is that many teachers do not have adequate knowledge of how to implement appropriate literacy strategies.  Even as an English major in college, my teacher preparation courses truly only prepared me to teach literature appreciation…not literacy strategies. 
 
So where should we start?  First, we must work to ensure that each of our colleagues has sufficient knowledge and understanding of several basic literacy strategies and that these strategies are implemented with consistency and fidelity across the curriculum.   The implementation of pre-reading strategies is a logical first step.  Benjamin Franklin once said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”  This is certainly appropriate when discussing the intense preparation that is required to prepare students to successfully and actively interact with a piece of text.  Pre-reading or front-end loading activities as they are sometimes called can assess and activate prior knowledge, build background knowledge, connect to previous learning, clarify vocabulary and help students set a purpose for reading among other benefits.  Sounds like a powerful strategy, doesn’t it?
 
Let’s explore just a few pre-reading strategies that will work in any content area.  One of my favorites is the think-aloud.  In this strategy the processes used by skilled readers to construct meaning is verbally modeled.  For struggling readers, this process is often a mystery.  Even otherwise successful readers might have difficulty with a particular topic, genre or format and would benefit from hearing how a successful reader would work.
 
To prepare a think-aloud, consider what skills you want to emphasize.  The following is a sample list of things good readers do:

  • Activate prior knowledge
  • Attach meaning to unfamiliar words by using structural analysis, context clues, or other vocabulary strategies
  • Connect to prior knowledge
  • Predict what the reading will be about
  • Assess predictions while reading
  • Clarify (summarize) while reading
  • Visualize
  • Ask questions
  • Reread for clarity

Choose a short passage and model the thought processes you would employ in order to read the passage.  Be sure to explain both what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.  Only with this understanding can students begin to understand when and how to employ these strategies.
 
Jeff Wilhelm has written extensively on the use of think-alouds.  You can hear him model a think-aloud and discuss the strategy at http://www2.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=4461.
 
If you want to read more about think-alouds, check out Wilhelm’s book Improving Comprehension With Think-Aloud Strategies: Modeling What Good Readers Do or visit one of the following links:

Theresa Hinkle is a retired middle school teacher, literacy facilitator, and an active researcher who conducts workshops on literacy.

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