Chapter 2: Using Pre-Reading Strategies

Introduction to Chapter 2

This chapter will help you get started with the pre-reading process. When you are ready to settle in with a text, it is a good idea to begin with “pre-reading.” With pre-reading, you will turn into a temporary detective, examining the text for visual clues as to its meaning. Here is how it is done:

Step 1: Start by Reading and Considering the Title

Picture showing the first page of a magazine article with the title "How to Remember Everything"
Health Magazine Article by Jamie via Flickr Creative Commons 2.0 License

Do not skip over the title. You should carefully consider the title because a good title will inform you about the text’s content. It is always nice if titles are also interesting, catchy, or even clever, but the most important job of a title is to let the reader know what is coming and what the text will be about.

For instance, imagine you are reading a magazine article entitled “Three Hundred Sixty-five Properly Poofy Days.”

Reading that, do you have any idea what this article is going to be about?

  • It could be written by a meteorologist, reporting on a year of observing cloud formations.
  • It might be a biopic (a biographical story) about an eccentric salon that specializes in“big hair” dos, retro-style.
  • Or perhaps it is a set of guidelines for using poofy cotton balls to apply cosmetics.

Would you be surprised to discover it is a story about a dog groomer who does show grooms for poodles, the poofiest of dogs?

See my point? The title should, hopefully, give you clues to the article content. (Keep this in mind when you are writing your own titles.)

Step 2: Reflect on What You Know about the Subject

Before you start reading, reflect about what you already know about the subject.  This is called prior knowledge. Even if you think you do not know anything about the subject, this step helps put you in the right mindset to accept new material.

To access your prior knowledge, try some of the following strategies:

  1. Talk with a family member, friend, or classmate. Share what you know about the topic, and ask your partner to share what he or she knows.
  2. Draw a graphic representation of the topic. Think about what comes to mind when you think of the topic, and draw what you imagine.
  3. Consider how the topic connects to other texts you have read or to your own personal experience.

Step 3: Look at the Author’s Name

On printed texts such as books and articles, the author’s name is usually included on the cover or at the top of the text. With electronic sources such as websites and blogs, the author’s name may be included at the top of the web page or at the end of the text. You may have to search for an author’s name on electronic sources, or if no author’s name is included, look for the company or organization that created the text.

Have you heard of the author? Do you know anything about them? Sometimes you will find a short bio about the author at the beginning or end of a text. You can always Google the author (or company or organization) to look for more details. Ideally, the author should be an acknowledged expert on the subject or should have degrees, training, or credentials that make them an expert.

Step 4: Skim or Survey the Text and Change Headings into Questions

After researching the author, the next step is to survey or skim through the text, looking for headings or “pull-outs” (content that is pulled off to one side or highlighted in a box). Headings, if present, are the titles of the sections in a text. Headings will often give you clues as to the text’s content and show you how the subject has been divided into sections.

If you are reading a text with headings or subheadings, turn the title of each major section of the reading into a question and write it down in your notes. For example, if the section title is “The End of the Industrial Revolution,” you might write, “What caused the Industrial Revolution to end?” If the section title is “The Chemistry of Photosynthesis,” you might write, “What chemical reactions take place to cause photosynthesis, and what are the outcomes?”

Note that your questions should relate to the kind of material you are hearing about in class, and they usually require not a short answer but a thoughtful, complete understanding. Ideally, you should not already know the answer to the questions you are writing! What fun is a quest if you already know each turn and strategy? Expect to learn something new in your reading even if you are familiar with the topic already.

Step 5: Look at the Illustrations

Look for any images: photographs, charts, graphs, maps, or other illustrations. Images—and their captions—will often give you valuable information about the topic. You may find it helpful to make some notes about the illustrations. Consider: Why has the author included this photograph, chart, graph, or map?

Step 6: For Electronic Sources, Check the Web Links

If working with an e-text, you may also find embedded web links. Web links connect to related web pages and are often formatted in bold or underlined in the text. Follow the web links by selecting them. They will likely lead you to resources that will help you better understand the text.

Step 7: For Complex Academic Sources, Look for Topic Sentences

Here is a seriously expert level suggestion: most academic texts and essays follow a fairly similar structure—including beginning every paragraph with a strong, focused topic sentence—you can often get a quick summary or understanding of a written text by simply reading the first sentence in every paragraph. Some authors may use the second sentence as their topic sentence, and if you notice this pattern, reading all of the second sentences in each paragraph will help you follow the text.

Step 8: Look for the Main Purpose of the Text

Working through the above suggestions should help you pre-read to see if you can figure out the main purpose of the text. In other words, look for the global or central idea or argument.

Now, you are ready to dive in and actually read the text completely. Your pre-reading has given you an overall picture of what to expect and helped you build a schema (or a plan) of what the author wants you to know at the end of the reading. If the pre-reading has worked well, giving you clues to the text’s content, your actual in-depth reading will be easier and more effective, and you will begin reading with curiosity, which is a great way to start!

Check Your Understanding: Practicing Your Pre-reading Skills

Now that we have covered some pre-reading practices, let’s put those skills to the test.

Open the following Scientific American article, but do not read it yet:

U.S. Cracking Down on Brain-Training Games.”

  1. Before reading the article, work through the above pre-reading skills  (steps 1-8 above).
    • Look at the author’s name.
    • Reflect on what you already know about the subject.
    • Skim through the article.
    • Look for headings and develop a question for each heading (and write down these questions).
    • Look over the images.
    • Check the web links.
    • Look for the main purpose of the text.
  2. Based on what you found in your pre-reading, what do you think the text is about? What position will the article take on the idea of brain-training games? How can you tell?
  3. How much do you know about the topic already? What did you already know (before you even looked at the article)? Write down your prior knowledge.
  4. Now, switch to in-depth reading and read the article carefully, taking notes of any questions you have or words you do not understand.
  5. If needed, use Google to do a bit of quick research on any questions or unknown words you identified.
  6. How did the pre-reading affect your ideas of what to expect from the text? How did your understanding of the piece compare between what you learned from pre-reading versus a complete reading? What does this tell you about the relationship between pre-reading and in-depth reading?
  7. Go to the end of this chapter to the section “Answers for the Check Your Understanding Activities” to read more.


Answers for the Check Your Understanding Activities

Practicing Your Pre-reading Skills

There are no right or wrong answers to the section this Check Your Understanding activity. The goal of this was simply to help you practice pre-reading. Keep it up!



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Integrated Reading and Writing Level 2 by Pamela Herrington Moriarty is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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