Sunday, July 5, 2015

Building Content Area Reading Skills: Anticipation Guides

A few weeks ago, I wrote about exploring nominalizations as a tool for helping readers to understand content area texts. Today, I'll be writing about a teaching tool for content area texts--anticipation guides.

Anticipation guides are tools that help readers to consider the propositions in a text before, during, and after reading. Simply put, the teacher creates 4-7 statements related to the big ideas in a text. Students rate whether they agree or disagree with each statement before reading, and then reflect again after reading. 

There are lots of resources available for creating anticipation guides. Here is the overview from ReadWriteThink, but a simple search will yield many more. Interestingly, each resource shows a slightly different twist on the anticipation guide--which I really like! I am always wary of educational approaches which must be implemented under exact conditions to be effective.

Vocabulary Preview + Anticipation Guide
In the example to the right, you can see how I've combined a vocabulary preview with the anticipation guide. The text is an introduction to decomposers, and there were key words that I wanted students to be able to read and understand. 

Students read this text with a partner, and it was interesting to observe the conversations that arose. Some pairs read the entire text first before going back to the text to consider the statements, while others considered each statement as they read. I suspect that preferred methods has something to do with working memory capacity...difficult to prove in the classroom, but intriguing to consider! Whichever method was chosen, students were carefully considering details and main ideas in the text and matching them up to prior knowledge--really important processes.

Column Headers--Consider Carefully!
Many of the widely available anticipation guides focus on the affective statements which can be interpreted and argued in multiple ways. As I work with fourth graders, I like to use a mixture of affective and factual statements. When I do this, I use the column headers "Yes" and "No" instead of "Agree" and "Disagree".

The guide to the left goes with Follow the Water from Brook to Ocean, one of my favorite picture books for teaching about water and watersheds. I chose statements that would direct student attention to some of the key vocabulary in the text, such as the word reservoir, and some key ideas in the text, such as the movement of water.

Unit Anticipation Guides
A unit anticipation guide can work to bring focus to a series of connected texts. This Antarctica anticipation guide was one of my favorite tools over many years. As we read and explored the topic, students referred back to the anticipation guide again and again, talking about which statements were supported by texts and which they were still curious about. 

The Eraser Game
Will students erase their first answers? Yup. It's frustrating at first to see students erasing their "Before Reading" replies to make them all correct. Students want to be right, and they want to be able to say that they knew it all before the text.

The Eraser Game goes away with careful modeling and cushioning. I like to talk about how great it is to learn from texts--"I didn't know that before, and now I do!" In fact, a change of answer from beginning to end is to be celebrated. That's what reading is all about! (It takes a bit for this lesson to sink in, of course.)

How often?
Any good instructional tool can become overused. As Graham Nuthall put it, "...when students experience a narrow range of classroom activities they rapidly lose the ability to distinguish one activity from another in memory. As a consequence, they lose the ability to recall the curriculum content embedded in those activities." 

I'm very careful to not overuse such a meaningful tool, and I use anticipation guides about once or twice per unit, or every 3-4 texts. 

As you can see, anticipation guides are great tools to help students get engaged in content area texts.


Nuthall, G. 1999. The Way Students Learn: Acquiring Knowledge from an Integrated Science and Social Studies Unit. The Elementary School Journal, 99:4.

Pegg, J. and Anne Adams. 2012. Reading for claims and evidence: using anticipation guides in science. Science Scope.

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