Pre-Reading Rationale, KWL, and Anticipation Squares

Warming Up

Pre-Reading Assignments (Overview)

I hate any moment in any training that begins with some variation of “Do you remember when we were in school?” or “Here’s the old stupid way to do things that no one actually does but makes for a good starting place for my example?” I find them contrived and offensive. 

Only slightly less offensive are over-simplified flow charts of what you could be doing in your classroom, as if teaching were little more than a 3-stage Rube Goldberg machine. And yet, I present… triangles: 

Pre-Reading Triangle Old

When I was a child, walking twelve miles in the snow uphill both ways year-round to school, with my slate and lunch pail of hardtack and sorghum in hand, this was kinda how we did things. Very little groundwork for whatever was ahead – the most common introduction to new material was something like, “When you’re done with your quiz over Chapter 13, turn it in and start reading Chapter 14.” 

Sometimes we’d get a real bonus: “It’s about the rain forest.” 

We’d read, or at least we’d hunt for the answers to the questions at the end of the section, since that’s what was usually assigned. Eventually we’d be expected to discuss the material or take some sort of quiz, and of course we never actually knew anything about whatever the lesson was about. The teacher would be annoyed and we’d ‘remediate’ in some way – more book work, discussion, etc. It was that last part, the already-blew-it part, that often took longer than anything else. 

But here’s something closer to what most of us try to do these here enlightened days:

Pre-Reading Triangle New

The total time available hasn’t changed, but we try to “pre-load” more – we preview vocabulary, or take time to establish connections to what’s already known, or to students’ lives. We scaffold the crap out of these darn lessons, in hopes of minimizing repair time later on. 

Time reading or otherwise ‘learning’ is ideally more effective as well, as we look for more engaged, sometimes interactive ways to crunch through essential content. If all goes well, post-reading serves only to reinforce or informally assess how well students “get it”, rather than re-teaching the entire unit after confusion and bad information have already complicated the process. 


Why Pre-Read, Pre-View, Pre-Think, Pre-Whatever? 

Keep in mind that while you may teach the same basic subject all day, every day, students have an annoying habit of leaving our room after an hour or so to go to, say… math class. There, they do MATH for an hour, which helps you very little. From there it’s English or Science or P.E. or Art, all fine in and of themselves, but none of which directly support YOUR content on a regular basis. 

They go home at some point, often with the solitary goal of blocking out any thoughts related to their day in school. Even if they do a bit of homework, they SLEEP afterwards – effectively rebooting the entire machine before rolling back into your room 23 hours later! 

No wonder they have no idea from day to day what’s going on. It’s maddening. 

Time spent making connections, previewing vocabulary, or building interest (or helping them fake it, at least), doesn’t necessarily add to the total time you spend on a unit. Even if it does, I respectfully suggest it’s better to anchor and help students retain less information than to blow through some impressive quantity they’ll never recall or know how to apply if they do. 

All I’m offering here are a few examples of how you might do this - aren’t you just giddy?

KWL Chart

You know this one – it’s been in every teacher training curriculum since Horace Mann first required your Normal School Certificate be hung on the wall before presenting you with the Teacher’s Edition of that McGuffey’s Reader. 

When introducing a new subject, we start with what students already Know. Then, what do they Want to know? After the unit – or lesson, or chapter, or whatever – what did they Learn? Some add a ‘Q’ for further Questions. 

There’s nothing wrong with going old school. Just because something’s vintage doesn’t mean it’s not useful. Classic rock commands at least one station in every market for a reason, right?

I prefer a variation of this which I think I stole from someone along the way, but have no idea when, where, or who. Sorry if took your rectangle. 

Anticipation Square

The subject being introduced goes in the center.

The top left section is for what students already know, just like with a KWL chart. Whether we’re practicing this together, doing them in small groups, or occasionally working individually, I insist this be filled one way or the other. They know SOMETHING – and usually more than they think or will admit. We will just keep coming up with stuff we know until it’s full – no matter how long it takes. This is a ‘mindset’ thing that’s a pain in the learning but pays off down the road.

Sometimes it’s a bit further down the road than I’d like, but… 

The top right section is somewhat dysfunctional in nature – and that’s OK. In this section we write any feelings or opinions we have about the upcoming subject, OR things we think we might know but aren’t entirely sure of. If we’re doing the rain forest, for example, this is where the good little activist children tell us that we must save the rain forest and that every time man cuts down a tree, the fairies cry. It’s also where the kid whose parents insist there are more square miles of forest now than ever before in history gets his say.

Students may not have strong preconceptions or feelings about, say, major geographical formations – but they can guess which are found where, for example, or even how many there might be. This is very much a ‘safe to be wrong’ box. Fill it up. 

Aristotle Quote

Lower left is for what they WANT to know about the subject. I teach 9th grade, and I can tell you the most common response to this without further prodding: “Nothing. We’re good. Can we move on?” So, as always when learning new skills, we’re gonna overdo this baby and fake it. Legit-sounding question after probing inquiry until even WE believe we care deeply. As Aristotle said, “Fake it, ‘til you make it.” 

Lower right COULD be the one you come back to with what you learned. I don’t do that, because I’m not organized enough. More often than not, by the time we get to the ‘end’ of a unit, I’ve forgotten I have their three-quarters-completed squares in a file somewhere waiting for this moment. Or, I’ve let them hang on to them and half of them have no idea where they are. So I do pictures. 

In the lower right section, draw a picture of something you believe represents the topic in the middle circle. Sometimes I’ll give further guidance – when we do ‘Oil Boom’, they’re not allowed to draw an oil well, for example. Otherwise, it’s all fair game. 

Once they know how to do these and expectations have been established, these can be done individually, in pairs or small groups, or as a class. They make good bell-ringers, or you can easily check them merely by walking around the room as they work. 

AND – well, let me preface this next part a bit... 

I would NEVER design a lesson plan based solely on my personal convenience, and I am positive none of you have ever even considered such a thing before. Any of us would go sleepless for days rather than compromise the integrity of our pedagogy, I am sure.  

Overworked TeacherBut… stuff happens. Sometimes you have the BEST Prezi ready, or the coolest interactive collaborative multiple-learning-styles activity planned, and something goes wrong. Or the brilliant thing you tried 1st hour sucked badly enough that you don’t want to do it again 2nd hour. Or you accidentally have a life one week. Which leads me back to where I interrupted myself. 

AND – prep time is minimal and grading is easy for these. It’s like the students are supposed to be doing most of the work or something. 


My husband and I are both #oklaed T's and just discussing this topic. Perhaps HS T's should teach multiple subjects and tie all the learning together. There would be less transition time between classes and more continuity of concepts and subjects. It might also allow us to get to know our students better.


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