von Robert Hill, Teacher Trainer und Autor von The Black Cat Graded Readers Handbook

Whatever you can do to motivate learners before they read a text is valuable, and encouraging prediction is perhaps the most valuable activity of all: if learners predict content and plot, they will inevitably want to find out if they are right or wrong, and will be ‘hungry to read’!

Outside the text: covers, blurbs, illustrations and headings

  • Take an attractively illustrated book catalogue and elicit first descriptions of the covers of the books and then predictions about the contents of those books. Look at the blurbs (the short, ‘appetising’ descriptions of the books) and pick out key words together.
  • A longer activity for a class is to cut out several covers of different books from a catalogue, cut out the blurbs separately, mix them up and ask learners to match them correctly. This practises scanning skills but also nurtures awareness of genres – horror, thriller, romance, humour, etc. – as well as arousing curiosity.
  • Before starting a well-illustrated book with younger learners, try ‘walking’ through the book. This means looking together at all the pictures, eliciting descriptions and predictions. Useful vocabulary will come up, and expectations will be aroused. As a game, the teacher can say ‘Find a picture containing/ which shows…’ and the learners race through the book to find the relevant picture.
  • With older learners, if a story has chapter headings, photocopy the contents page, cut up the chapter headings and stick them on a piece of paper in scrambled order; photocopy this and distribute it. (Alternatively, simply write the chapter headings out of order on the board.) Ask learners to put them in the order they think they will occur in the text and explain their reasons – language skills and awareness of narrative conventions are involved here!

Inside the text: sentences, phrases and words from the text

To encourage prediction, teachers often write on the board the first sentence(s) of a story. This seems obvious, but first sentences are not always useful for prediction. Other ‘points of entry’ into a whole story or just a chapter are possible. Here are some ideas for using text elements that are not first sentences:

  • Any exciting or intriguing sentence from the text – even the last sentence – can be extracted, and learners are asked ‘What do you think might happen to lead up to this?’
  • Extract some significant sentences from the chapter (minimum 3, maximum 6), write them on the board in scrambled order, and ask the class to suggest the order in which they will occur. Inevitably, learners find they have to imagine how a plot might develop.
  • Write on the board some words or phrases (minimum 3, maximum 6) that are significant in the chapter. Learners predict in what context they will occur: for example, in relation to which character, or to what possible event. (This is also a good opportunity to pre-teach any unknown lexis.)
  • Extract a short, exciting or important passage and eliminate some of the words (gap-filling procedure). This procedure aims to encourage prediction, not test language, so the words eliminated should concern plot and character. Learners suggest words for the gaps: they are really motivated to compare their ideas with the text when they read! As the aim is prediction, learners can even suggest words in their own language. The teacher can then translate into English any words suggested that he/she thinks are useful for the learners.

But whatever you do, don’t overdo the activities: as soon as your learners look ready and eager to read, start reading!