12 Pre-Reading Strategies for Comprehension

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Pre-reading strategies are one of the most helpful techniques to enhance reading comprehension and efficiency. We all know how important reading comprehension is for school success, but we don’t necessarily have as much information on effective ways to improve it. Some of you may not even know that a pre-reading stage even exists!

We are here to help explain why it’s important to use pre-reading strategies to improve your school performance.

This article is a helpful guide on how to use pre-reading strategies to improve your reading comprehension. We will first describe what pre-reading is, the importance of pre-reading activities, and how to use it for a wide range of school grades, including elementary school, middle school, high school, and college.

By the end of this article, you should know what questions to ask when pre-reading and have a plan to integrate pre-reading strategies into your study habits.

What is Pre-Reading?What is Pre-Reading?

First, what is pre-reading?

Pre-reading refer to strategies that help provide an overview of what you are about to read. Basically, you are skimming text (from start to finish) to figure out key concepts, main ideas, or other important details before actually reading the book. This helps activate your prior knowledge to improve comprehension.

Having that prior knowledge from the pre-reading stage actually helps you process and remember new information better than not skimming through the text at all.

Why are Pre-Reading Activities Important?

Why are Pre-Reading Activities Important?

Why are Pre-Reading Activities Important?

The pre-reading stage ultimately impacts how you understand what you read, which is viewed as one of the most important components in reading comprehension. We cannot emphasize the importance of pre-reading activities more!

Pre-reading activities are important because they help increase reading speed, reading comprehension, and improve your learning process on new material. These activities are intentionally designed to help you understand what you will be reading.

Here is a brief list of benefits from using pre-reading strategies:

  • Helps set a purpose for reading.
  • Helps contextualize the text. This means that you have some form of understanding on what is about to be discussed based on what you already know.
  • Helps students apply their prior knowledge while reading the text; this can promote active reading processes that have you engage with readings

What Does Research Say About Pre-Reading's Impact on Comprehension?

What Does Research Say About Pre-Reading’s Impact on Comprehension?

Still not convinced? Let’s see what the research says about the pre-reading’s impact on comprehension.

One study compared the reading comprehension of effective readers from non-effective readers; where effective readers applied pre-reading strategies before, during, and after reading. Findings showed that effective readers, who used the pre-reading strategies, were able to understand the content better and grasp the overall ideas of the material more than the other group.

These findings have been found in other studies that measured differences in level of literacy among students who were exposed to pre-reading strategies and a control group (no exposure to pre-reading). Students who used pre-reading strategies had a 20% gain in reading comprehension when compared to the control group.

These studies, among several others, demonstrate the importance of pre-reading activities and its positive impact on reading comprehension. If you can get a 20% gain in your reading from just using pre-reading strategies, then I wouldn’t wait much longer to apply it to your own study habits.

Key Questions to Ask When Pre-Reading

Key Questions to Ask When Pre-Reading

Key Questions to Ask When Pre-Reading

Now, what are some key questions to ask when pre-reading?

Here’s a list of key questions below:

For the title or heading:
What is this topic going to be about?
What do we already know about this topic?
What other books have you read about this topic?
Do we have any experience related to this topic?
Where and when did we have the experience?

For the author names or illustrator:
Who is the author?
Who is the illustrator?
What books have they written in the past?
Can we describe the style of the author?
Do I know other texts by this author?
If so, what do I remember about those texts?
What other questions might be important to ask the author before reading?

Now, the setting of the story or topic:
Where and when does the story take place?
Is the place/time familiar or unfamiliar to us?
Have we read any other stories with a similar setting?

For the main characters or population:
Who are the main characters or population?
What role might they play in the story?
What can we predict about the character only from the illustrations?

For the action or events of the reading:
What events might take place in this story or narrative?
What do you think will happen next? Why?
Do you have any questions about what has happened so far?

It’s important to note that these questions should be asked throughout the reading process, before, after and during reading.

12 Pre-Reading Strategies

12 Pre-Reading Strategies

Key questions for pre-reading can be a great start, but we want to make sure to leave you with a toolkit of pre-reading strategies to choose from. Here is a list of twelve pre-reading strategies that you can apply into your studying habits today!

1. Expectation Outline

Expectation outline is an engaging pre-reading strategy that has students write and respond to their own questions. The steps are described below:

Skim through the reading and write any questions you think the reading will be about. Alternatively, you can outline statements about the reading.

Go back to your questions or outline and start filling in the blanks! You can answer or correct any responses you’ve written during your readings.

2. Knowledge Rating

Another pre-reading strategy is knowledge rating. Knowledge rating requires students to rate their understanding of terms and concepts from a reading or assignment. This is ideal for teachers or instructors who are looking to improve their classroom techniques. The steps are described below:

The teacher presents students with a list of words or concepts related to the readings. Alternatively, you can create your own list of words or concepts.
The students then survey their own knowledge about the specific list of terms or concepts.
Ideally, you’ll want to use an actual rating system or rubric to create a more concrete scoring system.

3. K-W-H-L Chart

The KWHL Chart is another great pre-reading strategy that has students make predictions about the readings based on what they already know. KWHL Chart is an extended version of the KWL chart; it’s just has an additional column labeled as, “How I will found out more…”

Essentially, the acronym stands for the name under each designated columns:

What I Know – students write everything they know about the topic or concept.

What I Want to know—students write everything they want to know about the topic.

How I will find out more—students write how they will find the answers to the questions they want to know; which happens to be whatever they wrote in the W column.

What I Learned—students come back to this after finding their answers to write about what they learned in the process.

Use this sample KWHL Chart.

4. Possible Sentences

Possible Sentences has students create sentences using a list of key terms and/or phrases from a reading. Students can select phrases that they might have come across during their readings. Afterwards, students are asked to evaluate how their sentences are related to the topic.

5. SQ3R

SQ3R is one of the most effective reading strategies for comprehension. With this pre-reading strategy, students are required to Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Review.

Survey—Students skim through the title, bold headings, subheadings, graphs, charts to get a bird’s eye view about the topic. Essentially, you’re creating a mental outline.

Question—Students write questions based on what they just skimmed through. You may want to use flashcards here to write down your questions. Some good questions may be based on who, what, where, when, why, or how.

Example: What is this chapter going to be about?

Read—After completing the prior steps, students can now read their text, but start reading with the intention of answering their own questions. So, you are reading to find a brief description about what the chapter will be about.

Note: It is recommended to write answers to questions in your own words.

Recite—Have students look over their questions and recite the answers without looking them up.

Review—This is an ongoing process that can take over a week. Review requires students to look over their notes, questions, and other annotations to make sure that they can recall what they learned. This is meant to be a good studying habit to review your materials and make sure you have grasped the main ideas and concepts.

6. Author/Creator Consideration.

Author/Creator Consideration has students engage in a discussion about the author to identify details regarding the text.

Sample questions may include:
What is the author/creator trying to say?
What is their perspective of this topic?
What is their purpose of discussing this topic?

Anticipation:Reaction Guide

7. Anticipation/Reaction Guide

The Anticipation/Reaction Guide asks students predict details about their readings based on prior knowledge. Then, they evaluate how accurate their predictions were after reading the text.  Once students have formulated their predictions, have students do the following:

1. Identify major concepts to learn from the text.

2. Create four statements that support or challenge students’ beliefs about the topic.

3. Agree or Disagree with the statements you’ve created; be prepared to defend your ideas.

4. Find evidence to support or disprove statements based on reading materials.

5. After reading, confirm or revise responses.

Here’s a video for more information.

8. Advanced Organizers

Advanced Organizers come in four types:

Expository—students describe new content
Narrative—students present information they learned as a story
Skimming material before reading
Graphical Organizers (see KWHL Charts).

Typically, the teacher will state the purpose of the lesson, then students will use organizers to do the following:
Identify attributes
Offer examples
Provide context
Connect prior knowledge to new material

9. Semantic Mapping

Semantic Mapping requires students to use associations of their ideas with the text to develop relationships between themes, concepts, or other details from the reading.

The teacher organizes initial ideas under headings, then students flesh out more details to identify relationships to establish connections based on their prior knowledge.

10. Questions Only

Questions Only are the best approach to learning! Students generate only questions – not answers – about the text they will be reading. Questions can be designed to address aspects of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

11. Frayer Model of Vocabulary Development

Frayer Model of Vocabulary Development focuses on students’ vocabulary. Students complete a chart with the definition, characteristics, examples and non-examples of the term to learn.

Here is a resource to start.

12. Checking out the Framework

Checking Out the Framework is similar to SQ3R’s survey stage. Students will first examine different aspects of the reading material (i.e. title, captions, visuals, notations, table of contents, author’s notes, etc.) in order to engage with what they are about to read.

Pre-Reading Strategies for Elementary School Students

Pre-reading strategies for elementary school students might require more scaffolding from the teacher. Depending on the type of pre-reading activity you choose from the 12 Pre-Reading Strategies we described, the teacher will need to either model the process or provide the list of phrases or terms to form sentences from.

Additionally, teachers should consider students’ background knowledge and reading abilities. This might be an area that young readers may not have any prior knowledge about or may need more modelling to get pre-reading strategies going.

Pre-Reading Strategies for Middle School Students

Pre-reading strategies for middle school students can be adapted by the objective or lessons assigned from the instructor. For instance, if you are interested in expanding vocabulary of students, then it might be more relevant to apply Frayer Model of Vocabulary Development. Some instructors even have students draw on their handouts to pull as much prior knowledge about a particular topic as possible.

Here is an example of a pre-reading activity with middle school students.

Pre-Reading Strategies for High School Students

Reading can be challenging because it can get boring for high school students; but, pre-reading strategies for high school students can help make the process more engaging. Make sure to select books that are interesting and one or two activities from 12 Pre-Reading Strategies to captivate interest by using students’ existing knowledge.

Pre-Reading Strategies for College Students

Pre-reading strategies for college students are essentially the same as the pre-reading strategies for middle school or high school students. Refer to 12 Pre-Reading Strategies to select an approach that fits for you. College students just need to develop their own lists, concepts, or objectives to carry out each activity.

Wrapping Things Up: Key Takeaways on Pre-Reading Strategies

Our research shows that pre-reading strategies can ultimately improve your reading comprehension. At this point, you’ve already learned more about why pre-reading activities are important, how to use pre-reading strategies for elementary school, middle school, high school and college students, and have a set of key questions to ask when pre-reading. We also provided you with 12 Pre-Reading Strategies to choose from and use while reading.

The most important thing to remember is that you must actively engage with your readings by using your own prior knowledge about the story or material you are about to embark on. As we discussed, there are plenty of ways to do this; just pick one and reap the benefits. If you use pre-reading strategies for your readings, you’ll be sure to see improvements in no time!

Did you enjoy this post? Then check out our other high school study tips here.

We have also written an ultimate guide to reading here.

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Professor Conquer

Professor Conquer started Conquer Your Exam in 2018 to help students feel more confident and better prepared for their tough tests. Prof excelled in high school, graduating top of his class and receiving admissions into several Ivy League and top 15 schools. He has helped many students through the years tutoring and mentoring K-12, consulting seniors through the college admissions process, and writing extensive how-to guides for school.

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