Using pre-reading tasks with our students is key to engage them with a text and frontload meaning with them. Through these strategies, students feel connected and invested and want to immerse themselves in the reading.
Probable Passage is one strategy to use to introduce a text, usually fictional. Students work with a set of words, in partners or small groups, and decide how these words connect to the text that will be read or shared. Decisions need to be made together with regards to whether the words are part of the setting, problem, outcomes or characters. After these decisions are made, students need to come up with a "gist statement," a prediction as to what the text is about.
There are many outcomes that come from this strategy. Discussing words together, exploring meaning, looking at literal and figurative meanings, making predictions, working as a team, listening and speaking are some of the positive results you will notice and address with your class.
During Laura's literacy block, she wanted to read a very important book with her students, looking at the issues of fairness and race. The book, Martin's Big Words, is a favourite to read to students and is often shared with students before Grade 6. In order to use the book, Laura decided to try probable passage with her class and have them think about some key words while working with a group. Not only did she want her students to make meaning about the text from the words, but she wanted them to work together to do so.
It is not important for students to have the right prediction when doing this activity. The focus should be on students drawing on their prior knowledge and connecting this to the words to come up with a prediction that relates. You may decide not to give students the title beforehand, as Laura did, or you absolutely can. The words you decide to give may be elusive or straight-forward, again, that decision is up to you.
These are the words Laura chose from the story to have each group work with. They read the words together, talked about them, and then cut them out to paste onto their probable passage template. Students needed to come to a consensus about where these words fit into the story.
After giving the groups enough time to discuss and decide where the words go, Laura met with her class on the carpet to talk about their thoughts. Groups shared their ideas and predictions and justified why they made the decisions they did. Going through the words together allowed for multiple meanings to emerge. For example, the word "fists" was interpreted by one group as fists used in a fight, while the other talked about shaking your fist in anger or cheering someone on.
From this discussion, Laura then read the book aloud to her students, which led to a richer understanding of the text as a whole. Students were attentive and deepened their understanding of the story and the details. When they heard the word "blistering" in the story, they connected to their pre-reading work and discussed the implications of the word in context with the story.
Here are the 7 probable passages from Laura's class... the seven title predictions are:
- The garbage city
- Gandhi, a biography
- Martin Luther King Jr.
- Gandhi the Peacemaker
- Gandhi and the City
- Gandhi's Life Story
Notice the differences from group to group, these differences are important to talk about with the class, not to say that one is better or right, but to highlight how we all bring our background knowledge and experiences to a text and these intersect with the text to create meaning.
This is a fabulous resource with more pre-reading strategy ideas, as well as other reading gems, to engage our students in meaningful, thought-provoking tasks.
Other texts to extend the ideas and themes of Martin's Big Words and to use with this story are:
- The Other Side
- White Socks Only
- A Taste of Colored Water
- "I Have A Dream" speech
- Barack Obama's speeches
- U2's songs, "Pride (In The Name Of Love)" or "MLK"
For more information about probable passage, please see click on the following resources: