2 More Pre-reading ideas for your teaching toolbox:

Two More Pre-Reading Ideas for Your Teaching Toolbox

One of the most common questions we see our teachers asking is, “Can anyone recommend a good anticipation activity for a novel?” This is because great teachers know that an effective reading unit begins before the actual reading happens. In essence, the more you prepare students before they read, the more they will get out of their stories. The benefits of anticipation activities (commonly referred to as pre-reading activities) are numerous. Here are a few: 

  • They motivate students to read. A good anticipation activity piques students’ curiosity, motivating them to pick up the book to have their questions answered.
  • They make reading relevant. Many great anticipation activities show students why the ideas in the story will be important to them and their lives. As a teacher, you know this is crucial for getting students to invest in their reading, especially when it comes to reluctant readers.
  • They increase comprehension of the story. Anticipation activities help students to activate prior knowledge, accessing information that will be useful during reading. Just as importantly, pre-reading activities can supply students with information they may not yet have, but which will help them to understand and appreciate the story they will be reading. This is especially true for stories that introduce unfamiliar cultures, take place in unfamiliar locations, or have a setting in a historical time period. 

Because pre-reading is so important, the EB Academics team is always on the lookout for new ones. You can read about a couple of effective activities here, or listen for more ideas here. In addition, we have two more for you to consider adding to your teaching toolbox: This or That, and Photo Exploration. These are both featured in our new Bud, Not Buddy novel study, but you can use these with many other stories, as well! Here’s how. 

This or That

This is a great activity both for piquing students’ interest in a story and for building empathy for characters. Essentially, without giving too much of the story away, you will present students with a choice a character will have to make, and ask students which option they would choose. It’s sort of a literary “Would You Rather” game. Later, students will love approaching these conflicts in the text as they read, so they can find out if the character makes the same choice they chose!

As an example of one of these choices, in our Bud, Not Buddy This or That activity, one prompt looks like this: 

  • “You can no longer live at your current residence. Before deciding where you will move, consider the rules you’d need to follow, how you’d get food, and how you’d be treated. You can live with …” then students choose between “your aunt, uncle, and cousin that you don’t like,” and “a family you’ve never met.”

There are several options for having students share their choices, but we find a kinesthetic approach to be the most fun and engaging. For example, you could have students who picked the first option stand, and students who picked the second option remain seated. Then call on students to discuss their reasoning. Other approaches work well, too, like thumbs up/thumbs down, or having students walk to one side of the room or the other. 

Romeo and Juliet: 

This pre-reading activity doesn’t just get kids excited to read — as you can see, it also offers a preview into the story and its conflicts, while building empathy for characters before the reading even begins.

If you’re teaching with the novel Bud, Not Buddy, then our unit will have you covered when it comes to This or That topics. But this approach can work for almost any story! Here are just a few more examples, with some classic texts: 

  • You are head over heels for someone you just met, but your families despise each other and will not consent to your marriage. If you marry this person, your family will cut ties with you. You can decide to elope with this new person whom you feel you love, or you can keep the peace with your family and stay away from this person.”

“The Necklace”:

  • You borrow a valuable piece of jewelry from your rich friend, and you lose it. Confessing to your friend would be the honest thing to do, but she may get very mad at you, perhaps even ending your friendship. You can either explain to your friend that you lost her precious jewelry, or you can secretly work to pay for a new, identical piece to return to your unknowing friend. 

Photo Exploration

This activity is similar to the Visual Imagery Analysis activity mentioned in this blog post, but here we’re going to get a little more in-depth with how it works and what kinds of questions you can ask.

Paul Curtis’s Bud, Not Buddy takes place in Michigan during the Great Depression. Most elementary and middle school students, understandably, do not know a whole lot about this part of U.S. history yet. So some background knowledge is crucial to really understanding and appreciating the story.  

That said, it really is true that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” To get at the heart of the 1930s time period in the U.S., students learning with the Bud, Not Buddy Novel Study will view photos that depict images such as people standing in a line for relief supplies in Kentucky, a worried mother surrounded by her children in California, and a Hooverville settlement in Washington, among other photos.   

How can you put this together for a different story you’re teaching?

First, find photos or paintings online for the time period within your class’s story. Next, place these photos around your room and have students rotate through them in groups. Include a set of questions to help guide students’ thinking as they view. Here are some great prompts to help students respond to each photo they view: 

  • Describe what you see in this photo. 
  • How does this photo make you feel?
  • When and where do you believe this photo was taken? What clues help you know?
  • Why do you believe the photographer chose to capture this image?
  • List two questions you have about this photo. 

Afterward, talk about the photos and students’ responses. You can also help students make connections between the photos and the story by having them consider the story’s topics in connection to the images. For example, for Bud Not Buddy, students can respond to questions such as, “Which two photos best show the idea of ‘home’? Why?”

If you’re looking for a fun, thought-provoking way to help students connect with a story with a historical setting, definitely consider this Photo Exploration activity. The options are endless: an exploration of England in the 1800s for Oliver Twist, an exploration of the U.S. in the 1920s for The Great Gatsby, an exploration of France and Germany during WWII for a novel like All the Light We Cannot See. . . you get the picture. 


We hope these two anticipation activities inspire you to help your students prepare for their readings in engaging and effective ways. Whether you use these ideas or others, know that time spent building curiosity, relevancy, and knowledge before reading is always time well spent! 


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Then, pick the date you’re going to teach it in your classroom, and sit back while you watch as your students show up to your classroom pumped about what the day holds…and gush about your class to their parents on the car ride home!

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