PRE-READING: Getting Your Brain Ready to Read

PRE-READING refers to all the things a reader does before reading in order to engage with the text and increase capacity to understand it.

“If you build the big picture before you start, you begin reading the text with a conceptual framework already in place. Then, when you encounter a new detail or a new bit of evidence in your reading, your mind will know what to do with it.”
(Michael Austin, 2007. Reading the World: Ideas That Matter)


PREVIEW:  We preview a text to get a sense of what it’s all about.  Previewing can range from scanning a short article to exploring illustrations or chapter headings.

PRIOR KNOWLEDGE:  It’s said that prior knowledge represents up to 60% of comprehension! Authors often assume the reader is coming to the reading with certain knowledge. Activating prior knowledge before reading opens up those schema in our brains into which new information can be added  Read more about background knowledge here.

PURPOSE:  Knowing the purpose for reading helps us take a stance as a reader.  For example, we read in a different way if we know the text is supposed to make us laugh than if the text is full of challenging facts.

Research has shown that engaging in pre-reading strategies can affect both motivation and comprehension. Appropriate preparation for reading can enable students to read materials that might otherwise be beyond their capacity. We know that pre-reading strategies are particularly important for struggling readers. That’s why every HIP TEACHER’S GUIDE contains suggestions for before reading the novel and discussion points before reading each section, including a nonfiction article to build prior knowledge and anticipation.

For example, here’s an idea from the HIP FANTASY COLLECTION:  Have students brainstorm all the elements readers might expect to find in a fantasy story, such as a system of magic, villains and heroes and a setting that is another world. Then invite students to revisit the list as they read to see which are found in the book. Read more here. 

HIP Dragon Speaker Pack from High interest Publishing


There are a number of things teachers can do to prepare students for reading a particular text, such as:

  • ANTICIPATION GUIDES:  Prepare a list of facts/details from the book and flip some of them around so they are false.  Before reading, invite students to guess whether each item is true or false.  After reading, have students revisit the list and their predictions.
  • GROUP DISCUSSION OR BRAINSTORMING:  Introduce the theme of the book or an essential question and have students discuss it before reading.
  • PRE-TEACHING KEY VOCABULARY WORDS: Pre-teaching 3-5 important concept words from the story builds background knowledge and helps support comprehension.  (However, trying to teach too many words pretty much ensures that students won’t remember any of them!  Stick to a small essential vocabulary.)

It’s important, however, to give students strategies that they can use on their own to prepare for reading  Here are a few:

  • PIC FLICK/CHAPTER WALK:  HIP novels are peppered with graphic novel-style illustrations to support comprehension. Every chapter in a HIP novel has a title, for the same reason. Flicking through the pictures or taking a trek through the chapter headings provides a preview of what will happen in the book.  .
  • READ A RANDOM PAGE:  HIP founder and author Paul Kropp always read page 40 before reading. There’s nothing magical (or scientific) about page 40, but there is something to be said for previewing a few random pages to get a sense of the author’s style and readability.
  • MAKE A NONFICTION CONNECTION:  Think about what you already know (or think you know) about the topic. Read an informational piece or watch a video to build background knowledge about the theme of the novel.
  • GENERATE SOME WONDERINGS:  Looking at the front cover image and back cover (or flyleaf) blurb, as well as engaging in other previewing strategies can generate questions that provide a purpose for reading.
  • UNDERSTAND THE GENRE: Even within the FICTION genre, there are a number of sub-genres that have quite different features, such as fantasies, mysteries, ghost stories, or historical fiction.  Knowing the elements of the genre helps the individual take a stance as a reader and supports comprehension.
  • LEARN MORE ABOUT THE AUTHOR/SOURCE:  Asking questions about where the information comes from is particularly important in internet reading, where anybody can publish just about anything. But even with fiction, knowing about the author’s style and what other things they’ve written can help readers prepare to read. Knowing if the author is trying to persuade you to think a certain way can help you read more critically.  Read more about  Purpose, Perspective and Point of View
  • THINK ABOUT YOUR PURPOSE FOR READING:  Why are you reading this text?  Whether you’re reading for information or for pleasure will affect your “stance” as a reader. Readers will approach a text differently if they know it’s supposed to be funny or factual.  Read more about Race Car Reading here.


Predicting what a text will be about from the cover image or back cover blurb is a time-honored pre-reading strategy in school.  Why isn’t it on the list?  Read more here!

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