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A collection of helpful articles on teachers and teaching

Reading Strategies for Emergent Readers: Pre-Reading

Young Child Reads on Pile of Books

By Jacquie McGregor

The implementation of Common Core State Standards calls for teachers and students to approach English Language Arts, including reading, differently than we have in the past. The core of CCSS philosophy is that reading should be a higher-level thinking activity, with students consistently questioning, critiquing and applying the knowledge they gain from a text. The standards ask teachers to guide students to a more balanced approach to literature, spending as much time reading nonfiction and technical texts as we do on classic works of fiction.

As any elementary teacher will tell you, the success or failure of these standards will be largely dependent on the types of reading instruction students receive in their earliest years. Emergent readers are incredibly pliable, excited to begin reading and enthusiastic about approaching new texts. Using the strategies below, teachers have the ability to tap into this excitement and provide students with the strategies necessary for higher-level reading skills as soon as they open a book.

Taking students on a “book walk” 

One of the most important steps in critical reading is to make predictions about a piece of writing prior to the first real reading. For young readers, this step is often referred to as taking a “book walk.” During a book walk, students are asked to look over the book before they read any text and make predictions about the plot by analyzing context. For emergent readers, this means looking at pictures and describing what they see.

Teachers can begin by having the student watch while they model reading the title and author of the book, sweeping a finger under the words as they are read out loud. Next, they instruct the student to look at the pictures on the cover. The teacher should then ask the student to make predictions about what he sees and what he thinks the book will be about.

The next step is to walk through the book. The student should be instructed to look at each page in order. Ideally, the book should be in front of the student so that he can focus on the task at hand rather than physically manipulating the material. As each new page is introduced, the student should describe the events pictured, and then make predictions about what will happen on the next page. Teachers can then ask the student the following questions:

  • What do you see on this page?
  • What do you think is happening?
  • What do you think is going to happen on the next page?

Making connections to familiar words

Once the student completes the book walk, making appropriate predictions based on context, teachers should allow time to activate prior knowledge. For emergent readers, the extent of a students’ prior reading knowledge is dependent on her skill level.  This skill level is typically based on a combination of phonetic understanding and sight-word recognition.

In this stage of the process, teachers encourage the student to go back through the book again, this time analyzing textual cues. The student should return to the cover of the book. This time, it’s her turn to state the title of the book and the author, sweeping her finger under each, as was modeled in the book walk. If the student cannot recall, or read, the author and title, the teacher can prompt her by asking her to look at the first letter of the first word in the title. The teacher should then ask:

  • What is that letter?
  • What sound does that letter make?
  • Can you remember the first word in the title? It starts with the sound you just read.

If the student still has difficulty, the teacher can read the title and author to her, and have her model the behavior immediately.

The next step of the process is to go through the book once again, page by page.  This time, however, the student is looking for familiar text. She should scan each page for any familiar words or parts of words. If the student cannot immediately recognize anything on the page, the teacher can prompt prior knowledge by helping her look for familiar words, prefixes or suffixes. For very early readers, even pointing out familiar letters will help make meaningful pre-reading connections.

The importance of pre-reading skills

Critical thinking is the ability to make reflective judgments based on observation. For young students, the capacity to activate prior knowledge and to make predictions about a text both provide a significant path towards developing critical thinking skills. The connection is obvious; if we can teach our students to become thoughtful readers, we give them a major head start on developing higher-order thinking processes. As we move toward a unified common core curricular approach, helping students develop these critical mechanisms will be a vital part of the process. If we can begin doing so by guiding emergent readers, the gains we will see in older students will be even greater than anticipated.

Jacquie McGregor has taught a wide variety of subjects in 15 years as an educator, including music, art, language arts and life skills. She currently works in online education as a course mentor, teacher and curriculum writer, at both the K-12 and university levels. She is completing her doctorate in education, with a dissertation focusing on arts programming in educational free markets.

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