Strong readers often intuitively do three things before reading a book:
- They glance through it to see if it looks appealing to them. Or if it is required reading for work or school, they still often flip through it to get a general idea of the length and layout.
- They think about why they would read it. Is it just for pure enjoyment? Do they have to read it to learn specific content? Are they reading it to learn about someone’s opinion of something?
- They wonder about how the book will end, particularly in fiction books. They might even make a guess as to what will happen!
If we can teach our struggling readers to do these three things, they will most likely be better prepared to tackle the decoding of words in the text. Consider the three steps above as the “Three Ps”: previewing the text, setting a purpose for reading, and making predictions. We will discuss each one in greater detail in this article, and you can also use our Three Ps Planning checklist as a tool for yourself (if teaching pre-K through first grade) or offer it to your students (grades 2 and up). These strategies can be taught in guided reading groups with struggling readers, in one-on-one reading conferences, or even as a whole class lesson. The goal is for students to eventually make a habit of these practices, so that they become a natural part of their reading life.
Step One: Previewing the Text
For our youngest readers, from pre-kindergarten through first grade, previewing the text often begins with looking at the cover of the book. Share with students, or have them point out to you, the title, author and illustrator. This is an opportunity to make connections as well. For example: “The author is Kevin Henkes. What other books have we read by Kevin Henkes?” Next, you will take a picture walk. Slowly flip through the book with your students and have them notice aloud of what they see in the pictures. This is a perfect time to activate their prior knowledge or make personal connections. Have them consider what they already know, or experiences in their life, which might help them understand this book. For example, when previewing The Night Before Kindergarten, you can encourage your students to share how they felt the night before they started school. You might point out similarities and differences between their school and the school shown in the book. Building connections is a great way to get a reader engaged and excited to read the story.
For students in grades two and up, previewing the text may look slightly different. You will still begin by discussing the title, author and illustrator, but then you can discuss with your student what genre they believe this book belongs to. Next, the picture walk may not be necessary unless it is a picture book. However, you should still flip through the book, and if it is a non-fiction text book, this is an important opportunity to discuss non-fiction text features. You will want to examine the table of contents to start thinking about what will be covered in the text. As you flip through the rest of the book, point out features like chapter titles and section headings that give clues to the reader about what they should be prepared to learn. Depending on the level of academic vocabulary, it may also be a good idea to pre-teach any new terms they will come across in their reading. You can also point out that bold words or key words can often be found in a glossary for a definition, and take the time to look in the glossary for an example. Also, take time to focus on other features such as maps and tables and ask the student why the author would have included them. Non-fiction text features are there for a reason, so make sure your students understand that. Finally, just as with younger readers, you should activate your student’s prior knowledge by asking them what they already know that may help them read and understand this text.
Step Two: Setting a Purpose for Reading
Young readers will not fully understand an author’s purpose, but they can have a general understanding of whether or not they are reading a story just for enjoyment, or if the author might be trying to teach them a lesson. For non-fiction texts, they should understand that the author wants to share knowledge with them about a particular topic.
Older elementary students should have a knowledge of the three main purposes for writing: to entertain, to inform, or to persuade. Talk to your readers about whether or not the author wrote the book for fun, and just for a reader’s enjoyment, or if they wrote it to teach the reader about something. Or perhaps it is a piece of persuasive writing. Ask the student to explain what the author is trying to persuade the reader to do or to believe. It is always helpful to know why you are reading a particular text.
Step Three: Making Predictions
At the very earliest stages of reading, students will first make predictions based on the pictures. This is typically done after looking at the cover, and then again during the picture walk.
For older readers of narratives, you can ask them to predict how they think the story will end. You can also discuss characters and how they might change over the course of the book. For non-fiction texts, your students can predict what kinds of information they will learn about the main topic. If they have done a good job examining text features as they previewed the book, they should be able to back up their predictions with text evidence from those non-fiction text features. For example, a student might volunteer, “I think we will learn about polar bear skin and how it keeps them warm, because I saw a diagram that showed layers of blubber and fur.”
As with any new strategy we implement, we have to be flexible with “The Three Ps” and base our decisions on the needs of our students. There may be times when you need to change up the order of the steps, or you might choose to omit a particular part. The most important idea to take away from this, is that by teaching your students these strategies, they will eventually be able to take ownership of their pre-reading work. This will set the stage for their independent reading success!