Strategy 2: Establish a Purpose for Reading: The "Probable Passage" Strategy

(before reading)


This strategy is described in Subjects Matter: Every Teacher’s Guide to Content-Area Reading, by Harvey Daniels and Steven Zemelman (p. 112, Heinemann, 2004). For more information on this strategy, see Kylene Beers, When Kids Can’t Read: What Teachers Can Do (Heinemann, 2002).


The purpose of this activity is to activate students’ prior knowledge and encourage active thinking about a topic by making predictions before reading. The activity gets students talking in small groups in an organized way. The list of things they hope to discover helps set a purpose for reading.

Here's how you use it as a whole class activity:
  • The teacher chooses a set of 8 to 10 key terms from the reading selection, then creates several headings to categorize those words.
  • Students work in small groups to place the terms in the categories (see the example in the handouts)
  • Then each small group creates a “gist statement” which they predict will summarize their reading.
  • As a final step, each group lists things they hope to discover about the lesson based on words they don’t know or questions that came up during their small group work.

Before you use this strategy the first time, model it with a smaller group of words on a different topic. Tell the students what you’re thinking as you go through the strategy - how you decide where to place the terms, how you came up with your gist statement.

Explain to students that if their gist statement doesn’t match the reading completely, it isn’t wrong, it’s just that their predictions were different from the reading.

After students finish reading, go over the “hope to discover” lists. Talk about the questions that were answered by the reading, and those that were not.

Assignment: Try this with your students, then write a summary of how it worked in the discussion tab for this page. You could also record any comments from students.