Setting a Purpose for Reading

Before Reading Strategies for Setting a Purpose for Reading

Ask any secondary teacher what she is tired of hearing in her classroom, and she probably will tell you something along the lines of students’ complaints about why they are doing what it is they are doing in class. “When will I ever use this?” and “Why do I have to learn this/do this/read this?” are heard far too often by teachers.

While I can’t guarantee you will eliminate all of the complaints, I can offer advice for setting a purpose for reading. Often, students relax a little more at the beginning of class when they know what the teacher expects of them and what they will be doing each class period. If they understand that they will be reading an article for 15 minutes and then answering questions on a worksheet, they inevitably will complain even more. And, who could blame them? They still don’t know what they’re reading or why they’re reading it. (Note: Telling students they are reading something just so they can answer questions about it is not an adequate way to communicate reading purpose to students, nor is it the best way to foster a love of reading in or out of the classroom.)

Conversely, if a teacher sets a clear, concise purpose for reading each day, students will know exactly what they are going to be doing and why. Often, teachers align their objectives with the purpose for reading, but they need to communicate that in a student-friendly way at the beginning of class. For example, the purpose may be to read two articles and decide which better represents the students’ own feelings on a subject. Or, the purpose may be to read a poem and determine how it relates to the previous day’s lesson.

There is no special formula for setting a purpose that will make all of your students want to throw open their books and begin reading immediately. But, if you set a clear purpose for reading and combine it with creating a context for the reading, your students will have a goal for the class period and understand your expectations and their responsibilities.

Teachers can make reading more manageable for their students by using before reading strategies and creating  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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