Emerging writers sometimes struggle to make sense of texts they need to write about. Often, the problem is that they read passively, by which I mean without activating their curiosity, attentiveness, openness, engagement, and connection-making habits of mind, and without purpose or expectations. This can happen when they are unfamiliar with the topic, or are working with material that stretches them. Under such conditions, reading can become the simple decoding of words, instead of the rich meaning-making activity it should be, and needs to be, if it is to fuel writing.
Previewing a text is the practice of scanning it quickly but purposefully, with the goals of
- Initiating an individual connection to the text
- Creating expectations and needs to drive a second more careful reading
- Activating the reader’s prior knowledge to deepen engagement with the text
- Anticipating difficulties that might need special attention during reading
Here is a procedure for previewing James Gee’s “Literacy, Discourse and Linguistics: An Introduction.” It’s one that could be adapted to other readings in other settings.
- Read the title.
- Activate prior knowledge by trying to make text-to-self, text-to-world, or text-to-text connections.
- Make some predictions about the text using these stems:
- I think “Literacy, Discourse and Linguistics” is going to explore ___________.
- The title makes me think about ____________.
- I have the following questions about this text:
- Read the learning objectives, abstracts, or summaries if available
- Skim the text with the goal of determining the following:
- What does this text seem to be about?
- What questions or problems does it pose?
- What key words or concepts seem important?
- What questions arise as I scan this text?
- What connections can I make among this text and myself, the world, or other texts?
- What difficulties or roadblocks do I anticipate reading this text?
- Use KWL to make a connection to the text
- What do I know, or think I know about this topic? What do my classmates know about this topic?
- What do I want to know about this topic?
- What do I think I’ll learn about this topic from this text?