The Case for Frontloading: Why Kids Should Talk about Texts Before they Read Them

One of the great debates in close reading is whether or not we should frontload (or pre-teach) before students do a close reading. Often, close reading lessons start with a cold read, when students start reading text without any lesson […]

One of the great debates in close reading is whether or not we should frontload (or pre-teach) before students do a close reading. Often, close reading lessons start with a cold read, when students start reading text without any lesson beforehand. While this approach has merit, there are many reasons frontloading has a place in close reading lessons.

Frontloading ensures that students maximize their time with the text by giving them just enough information so they gain traction as they enter the text. It’s also an authentic way that readers start reading. 

Think about the way you approach texts. The last time you were in a bookstore, or shopping for a book online, you may have read the back cover or the online summary. You may have read the Amazon or New York Times reviews to find out more about the plot and what other readers thought of the book. If a friend recommended the book, you may have asked a few questions about the topic or plot. Perhaps you quickly Googled information about the author, the setting, or the historical time period before you read. These are all forms of frontloading.

This is not to say that we need to teach entire lessons before students read. But, frontloading just enough information so that students can get started with a book may be just the ticket to help them with deeper analysis. Strong frontloading lessons activate students’ background knowledge, provide them with just enough information to gain traction with the text, increase student motivation, and are woven into the broader purpose for reading. 

We can also teach students how to do their own frontloading. Teach them how to skim a text to grasp quick facts about the who, what, and where. Have them scan headings, subheadings, and graphics that may activate their background knowledge or help them form questions to think about as they read. Talk to peers who have read the book before, or have experience with the topic. Encourage students to do a quick online search (of reputable sources) to answer initial questions about a topic or text.  

Making frontloading an authentic experience that students engage in, rather than a laundry list of vocabulary words or facts-to-know before reading, adds depth to close reading lessons and makes frontloading a skill rather than a scaffold.

Where do you come down in the frontloading debate? How do you start your close reading lessons? 

Samantha Cleaver is an education writer, former special education teacher, and avid reader. Her book, Every Reader a Close Reader is scheduled to be published by Rowman and Littlefield in 2015. Read more at her blog: www.cleaveronreading.wordpress.com.  

Posted by Samantha Cleaver

Samantha Cleaver, PhD, is a former special education teacher and instructional coach. She loves writing, reading, and traveling to new places that she's read about.

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