Creating a Context for the Reading

Before Reading Strategies for Creating a Context for the Reading

My first piece of advice to any teacher is to create a context for the reading. Think about when you were a student in high school or college, or even once you became a teacher attending professional development, and how you felt when somebody handed you an article or excerpt and told you to read it. Often, we spend time looking at the title, headings, and other text features to figure out what the text is about.

As capable readers, we know how to navigate unfamiliar text and help ourselves to develop a context. Many of our students, however, do not know the tricks associated with figuring out what they are reading, especially when it is a cold read. There are some engaging strategies to use for creating a context:

  • Ask an intriguing question related to a main idea or topic in the reading. Better yet, phrase it in a way that will get kids to respond on a personal level or that activates their background knowledge. Then, get kids talking about their responses with partners, small groups, or as a whole class. Kids will feel more confident when they know what they will be reading about before they have to put all of their reading skills to the test.
  • Introduce the title of the reading selection. Have kids predict what the text will be about, and then have them share their predictions. Again, socialization and talking time is important to implement prior to reading.
  • Provide students with a list of words they will encounter in the reading. Some educators use to this strategy as a Word Splash: students write a paragraph using all of the words and create their own prediction for the story or anticipated summary of the article, using the words. Another option is to turn the list of words into a Story Chain.
  • *Hint: To minimize frustration, don’t choose the most difficult or unfamiliar words. Be sure to provide a balance of unfamiliar and familiar words and carefully select those that kids will be able to associate in some way.

Teachers can make reading more manageable for their students by using before reading strategies and creating a context for the reading. The strategies listed above are appropriate for nearly any grade level or content area, except the earliest grades that spend more time teaching kids how to read. If you have some surefire before reading strategies, I’d love to hear about them. Email Bailey at

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