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The Power of “Coming Attractions” to Increase Engagement & Understanding of Literature

How do we get children eager to read? Phyl, Krista and Kathryn discuss how ‘student buy-in’ and interaction plays a big part.

As teachers, we often struggle with how to get our students excited and engaged in language arts. We frequently run out of ideas about how to give students background information and context of a book, or a chapter, in creative and interactive ways. We also need to help our students build essential comprehension that is sometimes lost, when decoding takes the front seat while reading.
We have some strategies to share that could jumpstart your literacy instruction and get students more involved and motivated to read!
We find that when students participate in the creation of their literacy tools, we get more “student buy-in” and the important information from the text that we want to impart to our learners better resonates and sticks in their brain.
This strategy is using “build-your-own” timelines for chapter previews. It involves building sequence-based information related to events of the chapter, BEFORE the students read the chapter – organized in “BEGINNING, MIDDLE, and END” components.
Chapter previews give all students “Coming Attractions” to build an understanding of connections and a linkage of ideas for a chapter. We model how to create a word bank from listening to an oral summary of each part of the timeline and then demonstrate how to rewrite the summary points in your own words – a crucial skill for students in the writing process to become meaningful authors. Illustration and acting out of the “Coming Attractions” also provide a necessary kinesthetic learning approach that meets the needs of all students.
So, here are some ideas to add to your “Language Arts Toolbox!”
Creating a Vocabulary Table

As a first step, create a Vocabulary Table with your students to put the story elements in the forefront of your students’ minds. This visual support provides an interactive review of key word meanings in the book; along with a preview of terms related to the upcoming chapter they are going to read.
In this example, the students are already thinking about the characters and settings pertaining to the upcoming chapter of the book and are also placing their prior knowledge of the previous chapters at their fingertips to reference throughout the language arts lesson. Most importantly, creating a Vocabulary Table at the start of a literacy lesson decreases the cognitive load of the students by providing a visual tool to continually reference, assuring that all students have a better understanding of the key vocabulary terms that are embedded within the text they are about to read. 
Listen, List, & Summarize:
The Importance of a Chapter Preview Word Bank

After creating the Vocabulary Table, the teacher then orally summarizes the “beginning” and “middle” of the chapter for the students – leaving the “end” as a cliffhanger for them to find out what happens when they read the chapter. During this time, a Chapter Preview Word Bank is created by writing down the key vocabulary words from the teacher’s oral summary on the white board. Pointing out and scribing vocabulary words from the oral summary gives students an opportunity to hear key vocabulary words before trying to read them and instructs students on how to create their own table for note-taking in the future.
This prior exposure to vocabulary words, as well as a discussion of their meanings, allows students to build understanding of the key concepts and improves comprehension once they locate and read these terms in the foundation of the text. Next, a sentence is written, using the Chapter Preview Word Bank as a guide, to summarize the segment of the timeline related of the chapter. The sequence of these steps – listening to an oral summary, noting down key vocabulary to develop a word bank, and composing a summary sentence – is a critical instructional strategy to give students repeated opportunities to preview vocabulary and get “Coming Attractions” for the most important events which occur in the chapter.
Working Together on Illustration Teams

Next, illustration teams of students are formed to expand their understanding of the summary point by drawing a picture to represent the “beginning” and “middle” summary sentences. This gives the students the opportunity to provide their own unique visual expression in the form of an illustration, along with figuring out how they will work together as a team sharing a workspace. This also teaches students how to create a visual with describing details from the Chapter Preview Word Bank. Being on an illustration team helps learners picture the scene in their mind and connect it to what they will be reading in the upcoming chapter.
Circling Key Concepts in Timeline Summary Points

After that, students identify and circle words from the Chapter Preview Word Bank, which are used to write or compose the summary point. This helps students “laser-focus” on the details in the summary point and, in turn, improves their own writing skills.
When students examine a sentence and cross-reference a vocabulary bank that originated from a teacher explanation, it shows them how to compose summary points in their own words. This gives learners additional ideas that they themselves may not have thought of to include, related to key details. Also, this strategy shows students how to circle back around to the key vocabulary that the teacher pointed out in the oral summary of the chapter preview. It significantly helps students build a strong understanding of the main ideas of the specific component of timeline related to the chapter of the book they are going to read. 
Increasing Engagement & the Love of Reading

Finally, the students act out the timeline so that the chapter preview “comes to life.” READY, SET, ACTION!
Creating chapter previews with our students of all abilities helps them build meaning and understanding before they even begin to read. Reading fluency is also improved by providing students with chapter previews, as this strategy gives our students prior exposure to content, keywords, and main ideas before they try to simultaneously decode and comprehend unfamiliar literature. 
So, remember, chapter previews:

  • Give students “coming attractions” to better improve cognitive focus
  • Engage students in active learning
  • Outline key “takeaways” for better retention
  • Teach students critical skills for the eventual writing process
      • Composing
      • Summarizing
      • Note-taking
      • Revising

For more information on these research-based UDL strategies related to this article, please go to
Best wishes in making a difference,

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The author

Since completing a fellowship at Johns Hopkins Kennedy-Krieger Institute in 1988, Phyl Macomber has become an award-winning keynote speaker, author, and education specialist. Phyl has consulted with and trained thousands of teaching staff and was featured in the international best seller, the Common Threads Trilogy book series, as one of the top 100 empowering women who is a passionate catalyst for systems change in education. Phyl has been a guest on numerous radio shows to discuss simplifying instruction for students of all abilities. Phyl serves two ambassadorships - the first for the educational affairs organization, I AM Living Education Everyday and the second at Energime University, based in Manhattan, as the educational co-producer of the University’s global youth program, Mission Earth Solutions. Her partnership with South Africa-based Leave No Girl Behind International is training young people in key leadership principles globally. Phyl has created a 4-step simple system for how to teach anything to anyone, called T.H.E. P.A.C.T., which is outlined in Phyl’s first book, The Power of T.H.E. P.A.C.T. Her research-based teaching strategies have been published in numerous articles featured in education publications since 2009 and are being successfully used across North America and in parts of Australia, Italy, Saudi Arabia, and Africa.

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