While working on my Master’s degree I was assigned to analyze a passage from a 5th grade social studies textbook according to the Fry Readability Graph. I was surprised to learn that the book was written around an 8th grade level and my classmates found similar results from their content area textbooks. So it made sense that a large number of students had significant trouble understanding what they were reading: it was “over their heads!” Teaching students to be strategic readers early on is essential to increasing the success rate throughout the school years and beyond. Being a strategic reader includes things such as the ability to draw on prior knowledge, apply new knowledge to other situations, think critically about what is being read, and be able to locate specific information in the passage.
Instruction before reading is just as important as instruction that takes place during reading. One pre-reading strategy is an anticipation guide. In order to make an anticipation guide for a chapter, I use a word processing document with the title of the selection and “anticipation guide” as a heading. The directions are typed below the heading. Typically the directions instruct students to read each statement. On the pre-reading side they write whether they “agree” or “disagree” with the statement. In the middle of the page are the statements from the chapter, and on the far right side of the page there is another column titled “Post-Reading.” On either side of the statements there is either a spot to write out the word “agree” or “disagree.” Depending on the length of the chapter, I will usually pick ten key concepts from the reading and change some of the words around in a few to make them false statements. Those would be the ones that the students should find they disagree with after reading.
Having students write “possible sentences” for new vocabulary words introduces them to the new words and gets them thinking about what the words could mean. I give the students the list of new vocabulary and they generate sentences based on what the word might mean. After exposure to the vocabulary and a discussion of what the words really mean, students revise their sentences.
Pre-viewing the content is also a helpful strategy. Before getting into the chapter or unit, students are given a few minutes to skim the pages, paying attention to titles, figures, headings, pictures, review questions, etc. A two-column graphic organizer with the headings “Before Reading” and “After Reading” is used with this strategy, or students could even divide a notebook page into two-columns. In the “Before” area students will write down what they remembered from looking through the pages (with the book closed, of course.) Students could also use that space for jotting down what they already know about the topic or what they want to learn from the selection. As material is presented, the class can answer any questions they had in the “After” section or revise their notes if they wrote down anything incorrectly during previewing.
These are just three of the many “pre-reading” strategies I use in my developmental reading and science classes. Look out for more tips and strategies for the “during” and “after” reading phases!