Pre- reading activities for older students? Yes.
Getting students thinking about a reading assignment is paramount to their understanding and involvement of a story.
Students may need ‘sold’ on a novel or short story. Pre- reading activities can accomplish this and increase student understanding. I’ve compiled ten of the pre- reading activities I’ve used before. There are tons more and many variations of these. I hope you find them helpful.
1. Look at the cover. What colors are used? What images? Explain if these ideas given an inkling to the tone of the story. Do students spot a potential symbol? The colors used throughout a story might indicate pieces of the message.
2. Look at the pictures. Who is the story about? What does the setting look like? Sometimes the font can give the reader a clue. A romantic story may have ‘pretty’ font.
3. Read the table of contents. I love finding excitingly labeled chapters. Are the chapters telling readers anything? Do they seem to follow the plot structure?
4. Draw conclusions from the title. As I Lay Dying is my favorite book to do this with. Dying? For an extended period of time? We often discuss the title and what it could mean.
5. Give students the setting. Research ideas about the time period and location. This works well because students can find a portion that interests them: maps, fashion, politics.
6. Read the summary of the book jacket. What genre are we looking at? The summary should give us a clue. Defining different types may help students understand what to expect. (Example: Animal Farm).
7. What can the author’s background tell us? Look at significant events in the author’s life. Would these events shape his/ her writing? Edgar Allan Poe is a great author for using this technique.
8. Analyze a bit of sentence structure. I enjoy doing this with older pieces of literature. I pull a few sentences that will not give away key parts of the story. We look at the writing with a grammatical lens. What slang is unfamiliar?
9. Brainstorm the central topic. If the theme is not a secret, pre- reading activities can include developing students’ interest about a theme. For instance in The Great Gatsby, an underlying theme is that wealth is illusive and is often tied to the American Dream. Students can brainstorm about what an American Dream is, how people may have different ones, and how people attain them. They can internalize what their American Dream is, and build empathy with characters.
10. Research a fact. Sometimes students read literature that they may not be familiar with. When I teach A Raisin in the Sun, I have had students complete a web quest about different types of insurance. This really pulls in students who may not typically care for plays. Learning about a ‘factual’ part of life intrigues them and can get them interested the story.
11. Create a web. Pull out large pieces of butcher paper and place them around the room. Add main ideas that you’d like students to know about and let them show you what they know. (This is perfect data for you for future lessons!) For instance, when I teach A Separate Peace, I’d create five webs for students to add details: Word War II, unreliable narrator, PTSD, friendship/loyalty, and athletics.
12. Look at the movement. The Great Gatsby, for example, is a modernist piece of literature. What does modernism include? Much of modernism and realism act against romanticism, and Gatsby exemplifies that. As a class and I delve into the story, we’ll talk about modernism and Fitzgerald’s writing style. Before we read the book, we will study modernism.
13. Brainstorm an element. Whenever possible, I provide student choice for students to show me their understanding. These graphic organizers allow students to choose the best option to increase learning. If a story has intense conflict, I will provide the definition graphic organizer and complete it as we read the major conflicts.
14. Frontload information. Some stories contain difficult concepts that students simply must understand. In A Raisin in the Sun, students perhaps have not studied the depths of housing discrimination. They must realize the horrors the Younger family faced and potentially faced when they moved to a white neighborhood.
15. The hook, the anticipatory set. When I teach “Marigolds,” I hand every student a marigold as they walk into the classroom. We discuss their bright color, the work of gardening, and the pleasure of flowers. Students, every year, relate to those flowers and write about them in their final assessments.
Pre- reading activities for older students are important. They highlight parts of the story and bring a focus to the assignments. Plus? Pre- reading activities are a great way to neatly tie your lesson plans with a bow. After reading a novel, return to the pre- reading activities. How have students’ ideas changed? What did they correctly predict? How was the story different? All of those ideas will better your language arts lesson plans.
What pre- reading activities for older students have you found effective?