Inductive Pre-Reading Activity

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SWBAT make predictions based on key vocabulary from the story "Spit Nolan."

Big Idea

How do vocabulary words show us the big idea of a story?

Word Sort

15 minutes

You will LOVE this lesson!  Your students will too!  They will even come in the next day wanting to read the text!  I am not joking!

This strategy can be used with virtually any text, but I chose to use it to introduce a short story called "Spit Nolan" by Bill Naughten.  This is a great strategy because it allows the students to make meaning out of some of the vocabulary words from the story before they even read it.  By looking at the words and categorizing them, the students also use prior knowledge to begin making predictions about the text.  They walk into the reading with predictions in mind, and they are ready to confirm and refute them.

To prepare, I read through the text and pulled out important words.  I might throw in one or 2 that are unfamiliar, but most of them are somewhat familiar to the students.  I typed up the words, printed them, cut them, and put them in bags.  Okay, so in reality I didn't even make the bags.  I had my first class make them, and I used them for the rest of the day.  : )

You will need one bag per group, and like I have said before, I am so done with groups larger than 2, so I made a bags planning on using partners as a grouping.  Because this activity is very engaging, I allowed the students to choose their partners.  

Once they get their bags, tell them that the words are from a story they will read this week.  Their job is to categorize the words any way they'd like.  At first, my students just stared blankly at me waiting for me to tell them how many categories and what types to use.  I let them know that there was no right or wrong answer and then they were more comfortable.  I let them work on sorting the words while I walked around and observed.  I didn't offer help or advice, but occasionally I would question their choices.  If students didn't know a word, I let them ask me.  In one class, I let them look it up on their phones...bad idea.  Another, I let them use dictionaries...took too long. So, by my last class, I allowed them to ask me about words.  Perfect!

Student Examples


10 minutes


Once the students had finished categorizing, I asked them to raise their hands.  I brought them post its to use as labels and told them to make a label for each category. An alternative is to have them sort on a large white board or paper and write their labels on it.   I had them participate in a sort to get them really thinking about the words and access any prior knowledge they might have.  

It was so interesting to see how each group approached the task differently.  One group alphabetized all of the words.  One group did synonyms.  Others had many different categories. 

Once everyone had labeled their categories, I asked the students go quietly walk around the room to look at the way other pairs had categorized the same words.

We had a short discussion on all the different ways we saw, and what we thought was interesting.   I wanted the students to see other examples and realize that there are so many ways we can think about these vocabulary words.  

 Student example 1

Student example 2



15 minutes

This is the really cool part!  Now, I ask students to look at their categories of words, and make a prediction of what they think will happen in the story.  The students generally re read all of their words and then started making connections between them.  Some were even reshuffling their categories. 

I gave each group an index card, and asked them to write their prediction on the card.  Once they were finished, they cleaned up the words and labels (saving the words for the next class), and gave me the prediction.

I read each prediction and showed it under the document camera.  I asked the students to tell me why they made each prediction.  In other words, which of the words or categories you saw, made you think this.  

After we had gone through all of the predictions, multiple students said to me, "Do we GET to read the story now?"  (they said GET to, not HAVE to!!!).  I told them, no that they would have to wait until tomorrow.  They said, "Awwwww!"  It was so exciting!

I am in love with this strategy because it 1.  Prepares the students' brains for what they are going to read.  2.  Introduces some of the complex vocabulary ahead of time.  3.  Translates into active reading because the whole time they read, they are trying to figure out if their prediction is right or wrong.  They are searching for evidence to confirm or refute their prediction which is the basis of the first common core reading standard.  

This also leads to increased comprehension and allows you to use more difficult text because they are already prepped for what will happen!  
Some of my student's predictions were dead on!  I was shocked!