What are pre-reading strategies?

Pre-reading strategies facilitate comprehension when reading. They work because they establish related prior knowledge that students can bring to bear in order to understand information in a text.

Here are some pre-reading strategies to try in your classroom:

1.  Give students the title of a text or a topic and ask them to work in pairs to generate a list of words that they think they might encounter when they read the text.

If you think that their prior knowledge is limited, you can provide a list of words from which they can choose.

Combine suggested words into a mega class list. While doing this, get students to explain why they think their words might be in the text. This not only helps to build vocabulary, but also to share the combined knowledge.

2.  When starting a new topic that will require a knowledge of specialist vocabulary, provide students with an electronic list of key words. Include ones that you don’t expect they will know.

Ask them to work individually to sort the words into three groups: those they know well, those they’ve perhaps heard before but are not sure of, and those they don’t know.

Then tell students to work in pairs to discuss their lists and work out the meanings of words that they don’t know or are unsure of. Their aim is to move their ‘don’t know’ words and their ‘not sure’ words into the ‘know’ group.

Depending in their progress, you might ask pairs to join with another pair and to repeat the process.

When students have moved the vast majority of their words into the ‘know’ group, ask them to pair with a new partner and ‘test’ each other on the word meanings.

Be prepared to help if necessary.

A whole class session can then identify any words still left in the ‘don’t know’ or ‘unsure’ groups.

Finally, provide students with a text that uses this vocabulary. Ask them to read it individually and test for comprehension either orally or by providing a targeted activity.

3. To encourage students to think about the content of a text, and to establish prior
knowledge, design an Anticipation Guide.

An Anticipation Guide is a series of statements related to ideas found in the text. Each one is preceded (and followed) by an Agree/Disagree choice. (Or Plus/Minus; Yes/No; True/False)

For example, in a text on Dinosaurs, some of the statements might be:
Agree/Disagree   All dinosaurs had very small brains.                              Agree/Disagree
Agree/Disagree   Paleontology is the name given to the study of fossils. Agree/Disagree

Students circle their choice of Agree/Disagree before reading the text and then again after they have finished. In this way, they – and you – can see what they have understood from their reading.

4. Other pre-reading strategies include brainstorming to create a class concept map on the topic; completing a KWL chart; sharing and discussing related visuals; designing the questions to which students would like to find answers in the text that they are about to read.

Why students need cooperative learning

Again and again we hear that teachers value learning side-by-side with other teachers above other forms of professional learning. Educators cite the impact such learning has on their practice and treasure that they can safely try new practices and reflect with trusted colleagues.” (Tracy Crow, Learning Forward)

So teachers value cooperative learning for themselves. But what happens in the classroom? I suspect that cooperative learning is a much more widely accepted classroom configuration in the primary classroom than it is in the secondary classroom.

Primary teachers generally understand the value of cooperative learning and generally use it effectively. Secondary teachers tend to groan at the thought. Often they say it’s just too difficult. That it’s too time-consuming, that some students do little and let others do all the work, that there are some students who are too disruptive to operate effectively in groups, that there are others who are too domineering and that no-one wants to work with them.  And there’s no denying the fact that these challenges exist in many classrooms.

It’s sad to report that a teacher of senior secondary classes in a boys’ independent school once told me that he couldn’t get his students to work cooperatively because essentially they saw themselves as being in competition with others and they didn’t want to share knowledge.

There’s that word: competition. And linked with competition, of course, is the notion of summative assessment.

Using cooperative structures in a summative assessment environment works against the notion of using cooperative structures to foster learning. It’s not impossible – you can devise ways of allotting both a group grade and individual grades where you have clearly delineated the individual tasks of the group members – but it certainly makes it more difficult. It also makes it less likely that students will appreciate the intrinsic value of cooperative learning. It makes it less likely that they will value giving and receiving constructive peer feedback and it makes it less likely that they will develop the kinds of interpersonal skills that are so valued by society as a whole.

We talk a lot these days about evidence-based pedagogy so it’s good to know that research into cooperative learning tells us that ‘ higher achievement and more positive peer relationships (are) associated with cooperative rather than competitive or individualistic goal structures.’ (Roseth, Johnson & Johnson)

Perhaps, therefore, it’s worthwhile consciously planning to separate the cooperative learning from the summative assessment. Plan for students to engage in learning activities in pairs or groups, provide them with both teacher and peer feedback, make use of formative assessment to plan future teaching and learning – and then, where necessary, ask them demonstrate their learning for summative purposes in a separate activity or task.

How to prepare students for the NAPLAN writing task

Remember the advice: ‘You don’t fatten a pig by weighing it’. NAPLAN ‘practice’ is not necessarily the best way to prepare for the test. Rather, the best preparation you can give your students is to make sure they have the necessary skills and knowledge. You will, of course, introduce them to the testing genre and explain key terminology, but before that spend lots of time making certain they understand the persuasive genre that they will be asked to use in the test.
Here are some random ideas:
• As a whole class, explore lots of persuasive texts (magazine and television advertisements, posters, short letters to the editor – purpose written, if necessary) to identify what the authors are trying to do (their purpose) and how they do this. This gives you an opportunity to examine the language, both print and visual, that the author chooses, and to discuss why that choice might have been made.
• Have students work in pairs to create simple posters and advertisements whose purpose is to persuade others to do, think or buy something. Ask them to explain the strategies they used (images, font, language) and why they think these would be successful.
• Have students work in pairs or groups to role-play persuading others to do, think or buy something. Other students say whether they are in fact persuaded to do, buy or think, and identify the language (both oral and body language) that was used to persuade.
• Select several persuasive texts and assist students to identify the words used to persuade. Introduce the idea of negative and positive connotations. Ask students to assist in drawing up a list of the persuasive words used – adjectives, adverbs and adverbial phrases. Get them to suggest alternative words which might have the opposite effect on the reader.
• Encourage students to use persuasive words in their own texts. Ask them to identify their deliberate use of persuasive words and to explain their choice in terms of how they are trying to persuade their readers.
• Explore the use of connectives used to organise ideas in a persuasive text. Use an IWB or similar and highlight these on the text. Ask students to use some of these connectives in their own persuasive writing.
• Use blank templates – boxes labelled with the structural aspects of an argument such as Introduction or point of view, argument plus evidence, Conclusion. Cut up the text of a simple argument, and ask students to paste the relevant sections of the text into the relevant blank space on the template. (This can be done electronically). Model the process first before asking students to work in pairs to complete the activity. Particularly focus on the evidence that is used to support each argument (because ….) and on identifying the words that sequence ideas and that are used to link one paragraph to the next.
• Draft and write individual, group or class persuasive letters for real purposes, e.g. to express a point of view about a school issue or one that is relevant to the particular age group.
• Help students to understand how persuasive writing can be adapted for different audiences and purposes, by asking them to write on the same topic for two difference audiences.
The Persuasive Writing section of http://www.otisa.com.au provides more activities for students to work through in order to improve their understanding of the features of persuasive writing. Otisa is available on subscription to schools and parents.