Whether your students are about to read Charlotte’s Web or War in Peace, it’s always a good idea to prepare them before reading.
It’s difficult to go into a new piece of literature or nonfiction selection without any prior knowledge. Usually though, no one does. We always know something that relates to what we are about to read, even if that knowledge is minimal or buried deeply in our memories. That’s why our first objective when introducing students to a longer piece of reading should be to help them remember what they already know, bring up experiences they have had, remind them of useful vocabulary and grammatical structures they have already learned that they will encounter in the reading. That way the new information they learn as they read will have a solid foundation on which to build in their brains. In technical terms, it’s called activating schemata. In simple terms, it’s helping students realize and remember what they already know. So before you crack open the first page of today’s book of the week, try one (or more) of these methods for preparing your students to read.
4 Easy Ways to Prepare Students for Reading
I just love creating book boxes. They are such a fun way to introduce a longer piece of literature and get students thinking about what they will read. They are also hands on and tangible, and they give students a way to interact with the book that doesn’t require words. To create a book box, choose a longer work that students will read. It can be either fiction or nonfiction. Get a shoebox or something about that size, and then start to fill it with objects that have some connection to the book. For example, if you were going to create a book box on Charlotte’s Web, you might include a plastic spider, a pig figurine, a blue ribbon, and some scraps of newspaper or magazine headlines. Whatever you decide to include, also put in a copy of the book. If you like, decorate the outside of your box.
If you’re on a nonfiction track and planning instead of reading a novel, you can still make a book box for your students. If you were reading about the solar system, for example, you could put in models of the planet, some glow in the dark stars, and even a Milky Way bar. Don’t forget a copy of the book too. Whether you are reading fiction or nonfiction, the process of introducing the book box is the same.
Then after telling students what you will read but before giving them any reading assignments, remove the items from the box one by one and talk about them as a class. Don’t immediately name each object for your students. Invite them to share what they already know with each other. What is each object? What is it used for? Where did they see this object? How might it fit into what students will read about it in the book? Encourage discussion among your students. Then leave the book box available in your classroom for your students to interact with throughout the unit.
Before setting students to read a longer piece of writing, whether it is fiction or nonfiction, take some time to do a tour of the book or selection that you will read. Just taking a look at the non-prose items in a piece of writing can do a lot to give students an idea about what they will read. Take some time to look at the cover, which usually depicts the main characters, setting, and conflict and sometimes depicts other important elements of what students will read such as important objects. Go through chapter titles and see if students can make any predictions about what they might encounter as they read or if they can guess what type of book it will be. Look at any pictures or diagrams included in the text as well as their titles and descriptions. Can students interpret the data based solely on what they see in the diagrams? It’s even beneficial to take a look at the glossary or index if they are included in a piece of writing. That does double duty too, preparing students to read as well as introducing unfamiliar vocabulary.
Though your students may not know a whole lot about the topic they will read about, they will have a good foundation once they complete the book tour. Plus the process will jog their memories of anything relating to the topic, which is always a good thing.
Watch the Movie
Yes, watching a book made movie is a great way to celebrate the accomplishment of turning that final page in a novel, but that’s not always the best time for watching a film. Sometimes it is a good idea to introduce the book by watching the movie first. This is particularly true when you are teaching lower level students who you anticipate may struggle with the reading. By watching the movie first, they will have a good foundational understanding of the plot and characters. This way when they read they will have basis on which they can build further understanding and information they encounter including and especially specific vocabulary and grammar structure. Besides, watching the movie doesn’t spoil the benefits that come from reading. Just because students have a good idea of the plot (and event that isn’t always the same between the book and the movie) doesn’t mean they won’t benefit from vocabulary building, grammar exposure, sequencing and other items that students usually learn as they read a longer piece of fiction.
Even if you don’t want to show your students the entire movie or if you are reading nonfiction, videos can still help prepare your students for what they will read and help them create a foundation on which they can build. Show one or more videos related to the topic you will be reading about (they don’t have to cover the same information nor do they have to be extensive) and do some exercises with them such as taking notes, guessing the meaning of new vocabulary words, or sequencing events. It will still serve as good preparation before tackling a longer piece of reading.
Go on a Field Trip
It is always great to take learning out of the classroom and into the real world, and when you can relate a field trip to your reading selection, the benefits simply compound. Field trips are great for language development. For some ideas on what language activities you can do on and after your field trip, check out these ideas. Then follow up by reading the book you have chosen for your class. The out of classroom experience will be great preparation for new vocabulary and concepts they will encounter as they read, and they will have a tangible, current memory that connects to what they read on the page.
Getting students ready to read is very important, especially when they will be tackling a longer reading selection.
So don’t skip getting ready just to have more time in the text. After all, quality is sometimes more important than quantity, and when your students are ready to read, their time between the pages will be more effective and impactful.