5 Engaging Ideas for Pre-Reading Activities

When I plan novel units, I always spend extra time preparing an engaging pre-reading activity. Not only do I want students to begin reading with a strong foundation, but I want to hook them before the very first page. I want to pique their curiosity, spark juicy discussions, and generate that “Can we just start reading?” buzz!

Different books will demand different types of pre-reading activities, and the best lessons will depend on what students will need before reading. Will they need historical context? An understanding of key issues? Front-loaded vocabulary? Time to discuss essential questions? Once you determine these needs and goals, you’ll be on your way to designing a purposeful pre-reading activity!

The next step is simply selecting a lesson, activity, or model that will work for you. Lucky for you, I’ve rounded up 5 different pre-reading activities and created a fun pre-reading personality quiz to help you decide which one to use! Keep scrolling to take the “quiz,” and tally up your answers to find a pre-reading lesson that’s perfect for you and your students. 

5 Engaging Ideas for Pre-Reading Activities
Which of these 5 pre-reading activities is perfect for you? Take the quiz to find out!

WHICH PRE-READING ACTIVITY IS PERFECT FOR YOU?

Take the following personality quiz, recording the letters of your answers. When finished, tally up the number of each letter (A, B, C, D, E) and use the scoring guide to see which of these 5 pre-reading activities is perfect for you. 🙂

1. What is your goal for this pre-reading activity?

  • A: Scaffold a challenging first chapter
  • B: Pique students’ curiosity
  • C: Hook students before reading
  • D: Spark engaging pre-reading discussions
  • E: All of the above!

2. How much time and energy do you have to devote to planning this lesson?

  • A: I don’t have much time or energy…I’m ready to copy/paste and assign.
  • B: I have some time to round things up for an engaging lesson, but nothing too fancy or complicated!
  • C: I have a little bit of time to plan a lesson that will get me excited to go teach!
  • D: I am in a creative mood and ready for a fun challenge that will WOW my students!
  • E: I have lots of existing materials & some time to repurpose them in a creative way.

3. What statement best describes the book you’re teaching?

  • A: It’s a complex text that students may struggle with, but it’s worth the challenge!
  • B: It’s all about digging deeper and understanding symbolism.
  • C: It’s full of rich, juicy essential questions that are begging to be explored.
  • D: It’s a high-interest text that students will absolutely love.
  • E: It’s one of those gems that’s full of everything: symbolism, essential questions, timeless themes, and more!

4. What kind of resources do you already have, if any?

  • A: I have the book – LOL! Otherwise, nothing. 
  • B: I have a random collection of resources, so maybe I can repurpose some of them!
  • C: I have an anticipation guide or set of discussion questions.
  • D: I have some resources, but I’m ready to scrap them for something brand new.
  • E: I have an introductory slideshow, and I’m hoping I can use parts of it in a new activity.

5. Which of the following is your favorite/most-used kind of lesson?

  • A: Close reading
  • B: Inquiry-based learning lessons
  • C: Student-led discussions
  • D: Creative lessons that “trick” students into learning
  • E: Small-group activities

6. Which skill will you focus on the most during your unit?

  • A: Characterization
  • B: Symbolism
  • C: Speaking & listening
  • D: Inferences
  • E: Don’t make me choose – LOL!

IF YOU ANSWERED MOSTLY…

As: You’ll love the simplicity & scaffolding of #5: A Character Meet & Greet!

Bs: A Gallery Walk is your answer…scroll to #4!

Cs: The activity of your dreams is #3, speed discussion!

Ds: You’re looking at it! A Pre-Reading Personality Quiz is perfect for you. Head to #2!

Es: You can have it all…with my #1 favorite pre-reading activity: Learning Stations!

1. PRE-READING LEARNING STATIONS

Learning stations are my all-time favorite way to introduce a new novel or text. Stations are engaging, collaborative, student-centered, and kinesthetic! Stations work perfectly as pre-reading activities because they allow you to easily preview important content, build background knowledge, and hook students from the start. If you have a couple of different pre-reading activities but don’t know where to begin, consider weaving them together in a set of learning stations! The possibilities are endless!

Here are a couple ideas for different stations in a pre-reading activity:

  • Anticipation Guide
  • Discussion Station
  • Movie/Book Trailer
  • Nonfiction article
  • Novel excerpts
  • Any of the below activities 🙂

You can check out my bundle of virtual learning stations templates HERE or my print/digital stations pre-reading stations for any novel HERE.

To learn more about learning stations, check out the following blog posts:

THE GIVER: Pre-Reading Learning Stations
Here’s an example of my pre-reading learning stations for The Giver.

2. PERSONALITY QUIZ

Want a super fun way to hook your students and preview essential content before reading? Surprise them with a quiz! But not just any quiz–a fun, magazine-style personality quiz. A personality quiz is engaging, but it takes a little bit of creative energy to make it happen. I promise it’s worth it! For some inspiration, all you have to do is jump on Buzzfeed and check out some of their “Which Character Are You?” quizzes. To create a quiz like this, you need to structure it with an overarching question, and then make sure each answer option (A, B, C, D) corresponds to a different character/idea/symbol/level of characteristic. 

If you love the idea of a fun personality quiz, here are a few ideas to get you thinking:

  • Which character are you?
  • What setting best matches your personality?
  • Could you survive in [dystopian/sci-fi setting]?
  • Are you a [Revolutionary, Romanticist, Transcendentalist, Modernist, etc]?
  • What’s your superpower? [fantasy]

Whenever I give one of these personality quizzes, I always ask students to record what they learn/infer from the questions/answers. After the quiz, we discuss what they learned and why it might be important to know before reading the book.

To get an idea of what a personality quiz might look like, you can check out my Are You a Transcendentalist? Quiz or my Romanticism: Light Side or Dark Side? Quiz. Both of these are designed to introduce literary movements, but the concept is the same!

3. SPEED DEBATING/SPEED DISCUSSION

If you really want to get your students thinking and discussing before you begin reading, then a speed discussion activity may be the perfect place to start! Speed discussion is an incredibly engaging discussion strategy in which students participate in rounds of mini discussions with peers. Each round, students rotate to a different peer and discuss a different peer. 

As a pre-reading activity, speed discussion is a great way to get students thinking about essential questions. If you have an anticipation guide full of debatable statements, you can easily turn it into speed discussion! 

Here are a few additional ideas for questions to throw into the mix of speed discussion:

  • Based on the cover, what do you think the book will be about?
  • Read the back blurb. What questions and/or predictions do you have?

For more information about speed discussion, click HERE or check out my editable speed dating for any topic resource HERE. For a post-reading speed dating activity, click HERE.

4. GALLERY WALK

If you’re ready for an engaging pre-reading activity that will pique students’ curiosity, try a gallery walk! Simply put, a gallery walk is an activity where students examine different artifacts (images, quotes, & more). Traditionally, students walk around the classroom to examine and discuss these artifacts; virtually, students can click through an interactive digital gallery via Google Slides. Whether you facilitate it from behind a screen or around a classroom, a gallery walk is a great option for pre-reading. 

If you want to create a pre-reading gallery walk, here are a few ideas for artifacts:

  • Intriguing quotes from the book
  • No-spoilers summary or review
  • Book trailer or author interview video
  • Symbolic images
  • Essential questions
  • Relevant artwork or images
  • Thematically relevant songs/lyrics

For more ideas on virtual gallery walks, check out this blog post. To check out my collection of interactive virtual gallery walk templates, click HERE.

A gallery walk is an engaging way to pique students’ curiosity before reading. You can grab this template HERE.

5. MEET & GREET WITH MAIN CHARACTERS

Want a simple, low-prep way to preview important content and scaffold a challenging first chapter? (I’m looking at you, Gatsby). If so, a character “meet and greet” lesson is your answer! It sounds a lot fancier than what it is: excerpts from the text that offer characterization details. To create this kind of activity, find a few excerpts rich in characterization, 1-2 per character (depending on the characters). Then, ask students to record what they can infer about the character based on the small snippets of text. Challenge them to be as observant & insightful as possible, and make it a competition of who can “get to know” the characters best!

You can do this as a standalone activity, or you can weave it into learning stations! For example, my The Great Gatsby Pre-Reading Stations help students get to know Nick, Daisy, and Tom, while my A Long Walk to Water Pre-Reading Stations get students acquainted with Salva and Nya!

BONUS IDEA: PRE-READING LEARNING REFLECTION

Whatever pre-reading activity you end up doing, try pairing it with a quick learning reflection! Learning reflections will help students process their learning and generate questions! In addition to their metacognitive benefits, learning reflections will also show you what students know and what they don’t know. When you facilitate a reflection after a pre-reading activity, you’ll be able to identify any gaps in learning before beginning the novel.

This is my basic formula for a pre-reading learning reflection:

  1. What is one INTERESTING thing you learned?
  2. What is one IMPORTANT thing to keep in mind as we start reading?
  3. What questions do you have? What do you want to learn more about or discuss as a whole class?

I hope this blog post has your mind swirling with engaging pre-reading activities! For more engaging ideas for teaching reading, check out the following blog posts:

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