Before Reading Strategy (BRS)
Before reading strategies are intended to engage the reader. The BRS also assesses the student's relevant prior knowledge and interests. A BRS can be used to build a common knowledge base for successful reading. By pre-teaching essential vocabulary the teacher can develop concept knowledge and then label that knowledge with the appropriate vocabulary term. The key to all of these benefits, from a common knowledge base, to stimulating schema, is that BRSs engage the learner in the material.
Engagement can be broken into two fields: cognitive and affective. The cognitive aspects concern what goes on in our heads and effects our intellectual interest. The affective aspects center around our motivations. What then engages students? technology, movement, manipulative, relevance, choice, colors, textures, smells, debates, pictures, games, and many other things. Just as the hardest part of moving an object at rest is the initial push, so it is with students and their motivation. The key to the entire lesson rests on the level of engagement that is achieved during the BRS. If students do not see relevance, do not see some value in the activity, then it is unlikely that they will be able to master the material.
There are many types of BRS that can encourage engagement. The following is a brief list of some of my preferred strategies:
Story Impressions/Text Impressions
Application in History
To study history, we are asking the student to travel back in time. The goal is to portray the past in such vivid detail that it is not only understood, but experienced by the student. There is ample research that shows an experience will persist in a person's memory far longer than text. The challenge is to transport a student from the 21st century to the 4th CE, 19th CE, or even 8th century BCE. To do this, the student needs a place to land, and a motivation for traveling. By engaging the student with a BRS, we, as teachers, can insure the student's invest in the lesson. It is only through their cooperation that the lesson can transcend simple information and become an experience. The student needs context, relevance, and an interest in the material being presented. Through a BRS schema can be activated, tying the student's experiences to those of the past.
Example of Before Reading Strategy in US History
To continue with the general topic form week 6, we can explore a BRS applicable to cotton, Eli Whitney, and the Cotton Gin. A good BRS for describing a process is the Picture Map. Basically, the students draw a series of events that represent the process being studied. For this lesson, I would ask the students to draw the method by which cotton goes from the field to the market. The materials needed are simply pens, markers, crayons or any writing tool and blank paper.
This strategy could begin by creating a master-list of everything that is made from cotton, based on the student's contributions. After creating this list, I would ask the students if they felt that cotton was an important part of their lives. Since they, literally, wouldn't have the clothes on their backs without it, it wouldn't be a far jump to show the relevance of cotton in our current day to day lives. Having established the importance of cotton, the process by which it is transformed would be explored using the Picture Map strategy.
First, the materials would be handed out. The students would be put into groups and asked to draw the process by which cotton goes from field to market. After they have drawn the process they will share with their group their work. After the students have shared with each other, we will determine a master process that I will draw on the board/ overhead based on the contributions of all the students. After we have developed a class process, we will examine the actual process. This youtube video is a great way to bring the ideas together:
Finally, the class could begin reading the article/text on eli whitney, or transition into the vocabulary lesson outlined in this blog in Week 6.