Priming the Brain with Anticipation Guides in IRW Practice

By Lois Todd-Meyer

These are a few thoughts I wanted to share after reading the article The Fall, and Rise, of Reading: Students often don’t complete assigned reading. Professors are finding ways to solve that puzzle, by Steven Johnson. My sense is that pre-teaching is becoming more important in helping to establish an authentic purpose in the minds of students for the required reading. This isn’t an easy task as activating prior knowledge can be challenging in a class of very diverse learners as well as asking them to make predictions.  Inferential reading has become more difficult for many students since too much of the curricula used to teach reading focuses on literal comprehension.  (I’ll spare you my soap-box on the consequences of crap curricula being used in too many elementary schools.)

During the winter quarter, most of my students were very similar to the students I taught for years 20+ years in high school.  Students who attended, for the most part, high schools in smaller, more rural schools. Students who are able to decode and comprehend, but who have to be convinced that there is a valid reason why they should read what is assigned. I used a cobbled together anticipation guide for each chapter and that seemed to help motivate them to read the text.

An anticipation guide is a strategy that is used before reading to activate students’ prior knowledge and build curiosity about a new topic. Before reading a selection, students respond to several statements that challenge or support their preconceived ideas about key concepts in the text; students indicate whether they agree or disagree with these statements, which allows opportunities for discussion of essential questions that the text raises before actually reading the text.  After reading and discussing the text, students revisit the statements and again indicate whether they agree or disagree. Whether their responses have or haven’t changed provides for effective closing discussions after each chapter.  Their responses after reading the texts also provides information for them to use when they are asked to write about the concepts presented in the required reading.

As I work on revamping Beginning Reading and Writing for fall I plan to put together more ‘formal’ anticipation guides and will try to focus on concepts that (perhaps) all cultures share. I also have a couple of reading and writing interest inventories that I’m going to revise and use during the first week as discussion points to have students share with me and with each other their past experiences with reading/writing. My hope is to be able to use these discussions as a way to point out strategies they have used that worked for them in the past and to introduce the strategies (annotation, reading journals) that I want them to use for class, strategies that when they show evidence of use will enhance their grade for the class (the carrot).

Dr. Lois Todd-Meyer is a long-time Nebraska educator who taught high school English/Language Arts for twenty-eight years in two rural Nebraska school districts and serves on the State Government Relations Committee. Todd-Meyer is currently an adjunct English instructor at Southeast Community College and adjunct education instructor at Concordia University, teaching literacy classes at both the undergraduate and graduate level. She is a board member of the Nebraska Literary Heritage Association and Nebraska Center for the Book, for which she serves as board secretary. She is also a member of Delta Kappa Gamma, an international organization for key woman educators. You can contact Lois here: