Using “anticipation guides” to activate students’ prior knowledge and build their reading confidence.

by Lakisha Odlum

Grades 6-8, Grades 9-12


My strategy for engaging students is to use “anticipation guides.” I use them to introduce themes in novels we’re reading, but anticipation guides can foster student engagement in any discipline. Anticipation guides activate students’ prior knowledge and allow them to feel confident about a topic before delving into work.

Before I incorporated anticipation guides in my classroom, I would begin the study of a novel by telling my students what the novel was going to be about. This approach wasn’t really compelling and reluctant readers, in particular, weren’t interested. I re-evaluated my strategy to be more student-centric, incorporating more of the student’s own work and their opinions of the novel.

Now I introduce anticipation guides as a pre-reading strategy. One-to-two days before we begin reading a novel, students receive a series of statements related to the novel’s themes:

–First, students spend time reflecting and writing about their feelings about the statements. They are asked to explain why they agree or disagree with each statement, and they find this exercise interesting because the statements are deliberately thought-provoking.

–Next, we share as a class. I divide the classrooms into two groups: ”agree” on one side of the room and “disagree” on the other side. In response to each statement, students move across the room based on their position. Because the process is interactive and involves movement, the resulting conversation is very engaging for the class.

–Then, when the students have finished reading the novel, they again revisit the anticipation guide and reflect on their statements from before their reading. They assess whether or how their positions have changed or developed over the course of their engagement with the text.

In addition to supporting student learning, anticipation guides also help teachers with sensitive topics that can sometimes be difficult to address in the classroom. The structure of the guides allows conversation to happen naturally in a safe environment.

I’ve been using this approach throughout the past five years with both middle school and high school students and have found it to be an effective strategy. Students become very excited about the process; seeing how they connect their real life experiences to a text is a constant reminder about how smart they really are.

About Lakisha Odlum

Lakisha Odlum is a native New Yorker, and received her education from St. John’s University and Teachers College, Columbia University. She has taug...

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