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Prereading Strategies

Study Guide developed by Karla Porter, M.Ed.

The content of this web page was developed as an aid to either student or entry level teachers who have immediate need in their classroom for information related to reading or for anyone wishing to further understand this general topic area.

This web site is being evaluated and updated during this development phase. Please contact the WSU Development Team Coordinator, Dr. Vicki Napper, with comments or suggestions for this web page. All contacts and comments welcome.

WSU Development Team

Prereading Strategies

Index of Prereading Strategies

Prior Knowledge
Schema Theory
Strategies to Activate Prior Knowledge

Class Discussions
Semantic Mapping
Visual Aids
Advanced Organizers
Increasing Prior Knowledge
Strategies to Increase Prior Knowledge
Build on What They Already Know
Increase Background Information
Real-life Experiences
Vicarious Experiences Through Wide Reading
Additional Prereading Strategies
Vocabulary Previews
Structural Organizers
A Purpose for Reading
Author Consideration

Prior Knowledge:

What readers bring to the printed page affects their comprehension.  Some insist that the prior knowledge of readers is the single most important component in the reading process.

Some claim that the printed page of the writer merely serves to stimulate ideas already in readers' heads and may cause, at best, only highlighting and possible restructuring of these ideas in a fresh way.  Others believe that the text is simply a blueprint from which readers build their own meaning.

Because current theories of comprehension recognize the importance if not the primacy of prior knowledge, activation of this must be included in the comprehension process.

Prior knowledge refers to all the knowledge which readers have acquired through their lives.  Some theorists use the term prior knowledge synonymously with world knowledge, background knowledge, memory storage, or experiential background.

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Schema Theory:

Of all the recent research and speculation about the comprehension process, that associated with schema theory seems to have had the most unique impact.  Because of its influence, it is important to define and review it.

Schema theory is a theory about knowledge, about how knowledge is represented, and about how that representation facilitates the use of knowledge in various ways.  According to schema theorists, all knowledge is packaged into units called schemata, and embedded into these units of knowledge is information on how this knowledge is to be used.

Each separate schema is a device for representing knowledge of a concept, along with specifications for relating it to an appropriate network of connections that seem to hold all components of that particular concept.

Individuals acquire schemata through their experiences - both real and vicarious.  As individuals have more experiences, they refine, reshape, correct, and restructure their schemata.  As adult's, schema for the word teacher is seldom the same as it is for a first grader. Through life experiences, schema adjustments are made as adults continue having more experiences with teachers. One of the major problems involved in comprehension is that all people hardly ever share the same schemata; one of the problems in reading comprehension is that readers do not always old the same schemata as do the writers.

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Strategies to Activate Prior Knowledge:

Brainstorming: In these sessions, teachers ask students to examine together the title of the selection they are about to read.  The teacher lists on the board all the information that comes to mind as students read the title. These pieces of information are then used to further recall, and in the process considerable knowledge will be activated.

Web sites to visit:
Brainstorming ProjectSteps in the Brainstorming ProcedureBrainstorming WebBrainstorm Graphic Organizers

Class Discussions:  Class discussions and informal talks in and out of class all serve as techniques to discover more about what students bring to their reading.  Over a period of time, teachers can begin to get some idea as to what their students know and can adjust how much time needs to be spent on background information.

Semantic Mapping: Students still use brainstorming strategies in semantic mapping; however this strategy is organized and controlled by the teacher. As
students offer their personal ideas about a topic, the teacher writes these ideas on the board. In brainstorming, all ideas are written on the board. In semantic mapping, ideas are organized on the board underheadings. The diagram represents the information elicited from the students but created in such a way that qualities and relationships are evident. During active reading, students may also use semantic maps. As they read, they include new information on their maps. During postreading, students can use their maps as a review of information

Prequestions: Whenever teachers or students decided on questions to be answered by reading, they are activating prior knowledge.  These questions tend to focus attention and provide for purposeful reading.  Teachers can accomplish this by preparing questions in advance of reading. This will help in guiding students as they complete their reading assignment.  The teacher can also help students develop their own questions which will help them establish purpose and focus attention.

Visual Aids: Pictures and other visual material can activate a students' prior knowledge.  If a student has some schema for fossils, a simple picture may serve to retrieve appropriate knowledge.  Thus a teacher may share this photograph of a fossil before students read a science textbook chapter on fossils.  The picture serves to activate the students' schemata on fossils.

Advance Organizers: Advance organizers are specific types of  cognitive organizers.  They are a means of helping students relate the new reading material to something they already know.  If material can be related to the learners background and experiences, it can be meaningful.  Whense these organizers are skillfully prepared, these help to activate knowledge students possess while at the same time helping them to see it in relation to the material they are about to read.  Many textbooks provide well-written advance organizers within their books to guide students.  If these are not available, teachers may create their own.  Several ideas of uses of graphic organizers have been included within the various strategy sections.

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Increasing Prior Knowledge

Accretion:  Accretion involves putting new information into schemata already possessed.  Each time something new is taught or even referred to it in class, traces of it are left in students' memory.  Hopefully, over time and through enough classroom discussion and experience, the students' schema will become more fully formed and this will help them to better understand the text.

Tuning: Tuning happens when students reshape and modify information until it works for the them.  Tuning involves only minor changes in schemata.

Reconstruction: Reconstruction represents major changes in schemata.  When students learn something that goes against what they have previously thought to be true, reconstruction takes place.  New schemata must be built to replace existing schemata.  Reconstructing is the most difficult step in schemata adjustments because existing schemata tends to get in the way.

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Strategies to Increase Prior Knowledge: 

Build on What They Already Know: Question students as to what they already know regarding the assigned selection.  Expand on the terms and information they already understand.  Elicit a large number of associations from the students to the prior knowledge they already possess and help them see the connections.

Increase Background Information: Increase the amount of background information by providing more in-depth ideas regarding the topic.  This will help the students understand the selection at a higher level.

Real-Life Experiences: Actual experience is the best way to develop and refine the schemata that make up readers' prior knowledge.  To impact a students memory, they must see, touch, use, and experience real objects or situations.  If possible, provide any real-life experiences that have to do with the assignment.  Even something done on a small level will help with students' understanding.

Vicarious Experiences Through Wide Reading: Wide reading is important in providing students with information about people, places, events and situations.  Even though direct experience is preferred, many times it is not possible.  However, experiences lived vicariously through reading can produce tremendous results.

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Additional Prereading Strategies:

Overviews:  Discussing information about the selection or assignment prior to reading must take place.  This may take the form of class discussions, printed previews, photographs, outlines, or films.  Never give an assignment before this step has been completed.  Spend enough time before the students begin the assignment to insure understanding of it.

Vocabulary Previews: Unfamiliar key words need to be taught to students before reading so that new words, background information, and comprehension can improve together.

    List all words in the assignment that may be important for students to understand. Arrange words to show the relationships to the learning task. Add words students probably already understand to connect relationships between what is known and the unknown. Share information with students.  Verbally quiz them on the information before assigned reading begins.
Structural Organizers:  Before reading an assignment, basic frameworks which are included in the text should be pointed out such as cause-effect or problem-solution.  It can be beneficial to call attention to specific plans of paragraph or text organization such as signal words, main idea sentences, highlighted phrases, headings and subtitles.  A review of skimming techniques might also be appropriate as these various areas are covered.

A Purpose for Reading: When students have a purpose for reading a selection, they find that purpose not only directs their reading towards a goal, but helps to focus their attention.  Purposes may come from teacher directed questions, questions from class discussions or brainstorming, or from the individual student.  Along with the question, it is a good idea to pose predictions of the outcome and problems which need ot be solved.  These may be generated by the student or the teacher, but the teacher should use these to guide students in the needed direction for the assigned selection.

Author Consideration: Depending upon the content area, a discussion of the author of the particular work can be helpful to the understanding of it.  What is the author trying to say?  What is his point of view and his reason for writing the particular work?

KWL:  This strategy consists of three metacognitive steps for students to use with expository text:

    What do I Know?What do I Want to learn?What did I Learn?
Columns should be written on a board with the three questions at the top of each column.  A class discussion should follow as you ask the students these questions and how they relate to their assignment. Students may do this individually or placed into small groups to discuss the information.  A class discussion should follow pointing out the individual group findings.

Web sites to visit:
KWL Chart (Printable)KWHL ChartDesign a KWLH ChartInformation on KWL ChartsKWLH TechniquePrereading Strategies

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Comments or Suggestions:
Bruce Schroeder, Project Coordinator
or Vicki Napper, WSU Development Team

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