Teach children to predict, an important reading skill

Predicting means anticipating ahead of time what might happen in a story. As adults, we do it all the time. We read a murder mystery and we predict “who done it.” We read a romance and predict how the couple will get together. We read a thriller and predict if the characters will escape.

Predicting is more than making a guess. It is using what we already know and applying it to a new situation. When children predict, they make a connection between what they know and what they don’t know yet. They increase the likelihood that they will comprehend what they read. Wild guesses are not predictions.

Predicting from what we know to what we don't know graphic

Predicting focuses little children on what they are about to read. By looking at pictures, titles, subtitles, charts, photos, cartoons and other graphics, they grasp an idea about a story. Predicting attracts the child to a story. She wants to know if her prediction is correct. Predicting forces children to use visual or word clues to create meaning.

The Common Core State Standards include predicting in the reading standards.

However, predicting does not come naturally to all children. Children with dyslexia might be able to predict in a real life situation when there is no reading involved, but because they struggle deciphering the phonics code, they lose track of the meaning. Some children with dyslexia also have trouble sequencing. If so, predicting what will happen next is difficult.

Autistic children may also have trouble predicting since they have trouble interpreting social clues. The text might say that a character froze and was unable to talk, but the child might not know that the character is scared. How then can he predict what will happen next?

Here is a method of predicting that can be used with children of all ages. It combines vocabulary with predicting.

  • Go through a picture book or reading selection before the student reads it. Write down a dozen or more vocabulary words important to understanding the meaning of the text. Choose words which the child is likely to already know plus one or two new words.
  •  Write or type the words clearly on a paper, and then cut apart the words. Have one set of words for each pair of children if children are working in pairs. Put the words in plastic sandwich bags.
  • Explain to the child that he will be predicting what a story is about. He will be acting like a detective by using word clues.
  • Let the child pull out one word from the bag, read it aloud it and tell you what it means. If the child can’t read yet, tell him what the word says. If he doesn’t know the meaning, explain it to him. Lay the word on the desk or table in front of the child.
  •  Ask him what he thinks the story will be about based on that one word. Accept his answer.
  • Let the child pull a second word, repeating the previous two steps. Continue until all the words are read aloud. Encourage the child to change his mind about the prediction, or to become more convinced with each word.
  • Now ask the child to sort the words into categories or groups. (This step might be too advanced for some preschoolers.) Again, ask what he thinks the text might be about. Accept all answers, but gently steer the child into a prediction related to the text.
  • Now read the text. As you or the child read, note words the child pulled from the bag. Ask if the child still thinks his prediction is correct, or if he has changed his mind.
  • When the reading selection is complete, remind the child of his prediction and ask if he was correct.  Look at the words again.  Talk about what words helped and what words didn’t.  Ask what other words might have made the prediction closer to the truth.

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