You’re starting a new unit with your class and the topic is probably not the most exciting one. “How in the world am I going to get my students engaged in a text about government?” A pre-reading activity might just be the solution to hook your students! Here are some fun, hands-on activities to activate prior knowledge before introducing a new text.
What are Pre-Reading Activities?
Pre-reading includes all of the things that are done before reading a text that help students with overall understanding. These “before-reading” activities encourage your students to access their prior knowledge on a topic and make predictions on what they’re about to read. I love pre-reading strategies because they get students interested in a text by setting a purpose for reading.
Fun & Engaging Pre-Reading Activities
These pre-reading activities for upper elementary students will encourage your kiddos to get excited about the text! They can be used across content areas to introduce a new topic or text.
1. ABC’s of Prior Knowledge:
This strategy is ideal for nonfiction text. Draw an alphabet grid on the board with a square for each letter of the alphabet. Tell students what topic they will be reading about. You can also let them quickly skim the text to look at the title and text features.
Then, give each student a few sticky notes. Students will write down words they believe are related to the text on each of the sticky notes. Finally, they will go up to the board and stick their note under the correct letter.
This activity encourages students to tap into their prior knowledge after skimming the text. Do they recall a similar topic they have read or learned about before? What words came to mind when looking at the pictures and features within the text?
We were about to start reading a text about voting and government. I asked students to write down any words that came to mind when they heard the word ‘government’. Students added sticky notes to our ABC chart.
2. Summary Prediction:
This is a fun prediction strategy that can be used for fictional or nonfiction text. I used this as an introductory activity for our new novel “Frindle”.
Students looked at the cover image of the novel. Then, they wrote down 5-6 words they thought would be related to the novel based on the cover. For example: ‘pen’, ‘boy’, ‘school’.
Afterwards, they creates a summary prediction sentence using the words on their post-it notes. Students used linking words to connect all of their sticky note words into one longer sentence.
In this photo, the student came up with the words ‘kids‘, ‘plenty‘, ‘great‘, ‘ideas‘, ‘pen’, ‘school‘, and ‘frindle‘. Then, he created a prediction sentence using his sticky notes: “The kids made plenty of great ideas about a pen in school that is called a Frindle‘.
3. Pattern Puzzle:
I learned the Pattern Puzzle strategy at a CRISS training a few years back. Although it is typically used as a post-reading strategy to review concepts, it can also serve as a great pre-reading activity to set a purpose for reading.
Give each group a handful of concept cards with words and/or phrases related to the text.
Let students work collaboratively to group the cards in ways they think make sense. Remember, students have not been exposed to the text yet. Therefore, their groupings may or may not make sense.
For example: If the topic is on Government, you might include word cards with the three branches. You may also include cards with the positions related to the branches of government.
Students might not have any prior knowledge on government branches.
However, this pre-reading activity is exposing students to vocabulary before reading.
Once students have read the text, they will go back to their Pattern Puzzle and make changes to fit the newly learned information. The post-reading puzzle can serve as a great assessment tool!
4. Four Corners:
I love using games in the classroom to engage my students!
Use facts from the text to play a little ‘True or False’ Four Corners. Write down a list of true and false statements about the text and divide your room into a ‘true’ and ‘false’ area.
Before reading the text, have students stand up and listen to each of the statements. They will quickly decide if they think the statement is true or false and walk to that area of the classroom. This activity sets a purpose for reading by exposing students to the topics they will be learning about ahead of time.
This would also work as a great post-reading activity to assess comprehension.
5. Speed Chatting/ Cocktail Discussion:
Have students write down the topic of the text inside of a web in their interactive notebooks. Set a timer for 2-3 minutes and allow students to walk around the room chatting with other students about the topic. What do they know about the topic? What words come to mind when they think of this topic?
The goal is to meet with several students and gather as many ideas/words as possible within those 2-3 minutes.
Free Asking Questions Graphic Organizer
Students will make predictions and ask questions about the text throughout the reading. Download this FREE Asking Questions graphic organizer PDF to use as a pre-reading and post-reading tool!
Why are Pre-Reading Activities Important?
Teach students to make predictions before reading.
Encourage students to activate their background knowledge.
These strategies spark students’ curiosity in a new text or topic.
Pre-reading is a useful tool for increasing overall comprehension.
I hope these before-reading strategies and activities come in handy when introducing a new topic to your students. Remember, many of these strategies can also serve as post-reading activities to assess your students’ comprehension! If you have any questions about these strategies, please feel free to reach out!