Pre-reading activities cover a range of possibilities, all directed at helping learners engage in a process of discovery and to feel authorized to engage with the form and content of the text. What all successful pre-reading activities have in common is that they are student-centered. The instructor has to identify the potential problems of readability inherent in a chosen reading text, and then has to help students find ways to surmount those difficulties. Rather than just provide answers or summarize the content, the instructor can help learners identify the sources of their reading difficulties.

Two pre-reading activities are very commonly used in tandem:

  • Brainstorming: Students pool what they know about the topic of a text and share their knowledge in the native or target language. The goal is to activate the learners' horizon of expectation, and help learners identify what the text is about. Pre-reading exercises can take different forms, but ideally they are learner-centered rather than teacher-centered. For example, if the text is a film review, and only one student has seen the film, that student can tell the others about the plot or other notable features of the film.
  • Skimming: The second pre-reading activity is skimming. In class, allot a short period of time (two minutes or so) for the learners to skim the first paragraph or page of the text, look at illustrations and subtitles, and identify the words in the text that explain the "who," "what," "where," and "when" of the text content—to identify core vocabulary words that will help them work through uncertainties.

Let's go back to the Norwegian Batman text introduced previously. Skim the first two paragraphs and identify core vocabulary words. Based on the vocabulary words, try to summarize what the text is about.


A pre-reading exercise using the Norwegian text.

Duration: 03:34

What were your reactions to the pre-reading activity? Did you find some parts more difficult than others? Did you struggle with ambiguity or did you enjoy the challenge?


Reactions to the pre-reading exercise.

Duration: 03:26

Overall, pre-reading helps students

  • activate their horizon of expectation (background knowledge, syntactic and semantic resources, cognitive strategies),
  • take charge of their own learning, and
  • become willing to tolerate ambiguity.