Pre-reading is about reading efficiently. The term refers to activities completed before reading to increase retention and understanding, and is therefore most appropriate for informative reading as opposed to reading for pleasure. Pre-reading is useful to beginning readers and English language learners because it can help them engage with the text and identify challenges it may pose. Pre-reading is also useful for academic reading because it helps to prepare for notetaking and increases students’ attention and focus.

Beginning Readers

We connect to what we read through personal experiences. Young children just learning to read lack diverse experiences, making it more challenging for them to connect to new readings. Teacher-led pre-reading activities help students find ways to engage with the text meaningfully. For instance, a third grade student may never have worked in a lighthouse, but by asking the student questions about her vacation at the beach, or of images of beaches she has seen on television, in movies, or in other stories, the teacher helps the student better understand this type of environment.

English Language Learners

Non-native English speakers can increase comprehension by practicing pre-reading skills.
Non-native English speakers can increase comprehension by practicing pre-reading skills.

For students whose native language is not English, pre-reading is useful to identify a text’s potential challenges, such as new vocabulary, new syntax, or unfamiliar topics. Because these students may be learning in environments quite different from their native cultures, they might need additional context to understand a piece of writing. For example, winter activities such as making snow angels or the dangers of ice skating on a thawing pond may be difficult to someone from a climate that does not experience definite seasons. Further, if readers define new words before they begin reading, they focus more on comprehension, rather than decoding, and retain more information.

Academic Readers

Pre-reading benefits students by keeping them engaged and focused on important information in academic texts. Asking questions and then reading to find the answers keeps students’ minds from wandering. Similarly, since students seek specific information, they are more likely to pay attention to key concepts and remember important information rather than trivial details. Such focused reading aids studying and note-taking, and facilitates organization of content.


Researchers find pre-reading helpful for the initial steps of the research process. By scanning titles, subtitles, and headings, researchers may quickly identify relevant literature on their topic. Such scanning also enables researchers to see the direction of their source, what aspects of a topic are already written about, and what aspects of the topic have largely been ignored. Understanding the scope of existing research informs the direction, organization, and content of one’s own work early in the writing process.