Predicting Reading Strategies for Elementary Students

Predicting Reading Strategies for Elementary Students

Help your students become good readers by teaching them this core reading comprehension skill! These predicting reading strategies will help you improve prediction skills, and you can use them any time! 

Predicting is an important reading strategy and one of the first we teach young readers. Although it seems simple, it's surprisingly complex. To make logical predictions, students must be attending to everything: plot, character development, mood, tone, etc, and they must also integrate this new information with their prior knowledge about how the world works.

Many students can make minor predictions about what may happen in a story, but predicting is such an important skill that it's best taught with explicit instruction and some really fun and engaging activities to bring it to life!

10 Easy Predicting Reading Strategies

When we talk about making predictions, one important phrase comes to mind: context clues. They're a big part of teaching students to make predictions, but they aren't everything! The best prediction questions and activities build on your students' past experiences, too.  

The reading comprehension strategies below will help your readers become exceptional readers by balancing context clues (aka text evidence) and their life experiences. They can be used across elementary grades and for fiction and non-fiction texts.

1. Preview the text

This is one of the earliest prediction strategies teachers use: looking at the book before we read or taking a "picture walk." Show off the book cover, give a little background information about the author, and flip through the pages. Let the students absorb whatever they can in the process and chat about their observations. 

You can even list out your students' predictions on an anchor chart or make a “crystal ball” on the board. After reading, go back to reference this list to see which of those predictions came true.

This is also a great pre-reading strategy option for nonfiction as it relies on scanning through headings, graphics, charts, and other text elements. 

2. Ask Questions

As you read, pause occasionally to ask questions about what students think will happen next. This is a very natural and normal question to ask, especially in suspenseful books which leave you wondering what will happen!

Here are some options to start:

  • What do you think this story will be about?
  • What do you think will happen next?
  • Who will be the main characters in this story?
  • How do you think the character will feel about this?

3. Use Prior Knowledge

Prior knowledge is a fundamental part of this reading comprehension strategy. Students cannot make inferences or predictions about what is to come if they don't have any experiences to back them up. Predictions come out of their own experiences blended with information and details from the text.

One method is to choose books as windows and mirrors. Some books will mirror your students' lived experiences, while others will offer a window into different ways of life. This is a great way to build a diverse and inclusive library, and it's also a good way to gradually strengthen those predicting skills. 

4. Guess the Next Word

This is a great beginner strategy as it focuses directly on the sentence in front of you, not the book as a whole. Before you read the book with the class, cover predictable words with sticky notes. Make it easy at the beginning, but add in some trickier words as you go. As you read, pause to hear students' guesses about the mystery word and probe them to think more deeply by asking, "Why do you think that?" or "How do you know that?"

The whole class will be on the edge of their seats trying to figure them out!

Note: this strategy should not be used when explicitly teaching students HOW to read/decode. This is a strategy purely to focus on predicting skills!

5. Look for Clues

As a synthetic phonics advocate, I'm always reluctant to recommend that students should "look for clues," but this is a major part of reading picture books! Most picture books are intentionally brief and vague. They don't explain everything in detail because they don't have to; the illustrator will provide layers of meaning with their images. 

Really focus on a specific page or two to see what information your students can glean from the text. To take it to another level, fill out a graphic organiser or anchor chart together to list out text evidence and visual evidence. What clues can you learn from the language the author uses, and what information can you absorb from the images? Look for body language, weather, subtle clues, and more to see what you can learn from just one image.

6. Make Inferences

Predictions are a type of inference, and it can be helpful to lean on this skill to extract more meaning from a story. It can also be a necessary scaffold. For example, students might need to pause and think about why the character's best friend was so upset at the birthday party before they can anticipate how they would react. Reading between the lines like this can lay the groundwork for making a prediction about what's to come.

To further consolidate inferring skills, you might like to download these free inferring prompts.



7. Think Alouds

Many teachers use this practice, especially during read-alouds. Although it looks like the teacher is doing the work, it's actually a great way to model critical thinking.  

As you read, pause to make an observation and a prediction about a story. It can be based on information you picked up from the book or perhaps your own previous knowledge about a related skill. Students should be actively making their own predictions most of the time, but this can be a very helpful way to teach comprehension skills at the beginning. 

8. Comic Strips or Journals

This strategy is all about teaching students how to make predictions throughout a story. It looks different for different age groups, and younger students will likely have less tolerance for this task than older students. 

For Kindergarten - 2nd grade students, give them a comic strip with 3-5 panels. Throughout the book, pause to ask students to jot down a quick image of what they think will happen next. Share some of the ideas with the class or keep them "secret" until the end. If you practise this often, you will not need to prompt students to complete the pictures, and they will make their own predictions throughout the story.

For 3rd - 6th grade students, try making a "Prediction Journal." As they read longer novels and chapter books, ask them to make a prediction after each day's reading. This can be an especially nice activity for a class read-aloud, as you can remind students and build the habit. Upper elementary students can also reflect on the quality of their prediction. Did they get it right? Part of it? Were they off? This sort of reflection is a fantastic way to foster metacognition in your classroom and get students thinking about their thinking!

9. Find the Evidence

This is a fun twist on using context clues! There are many different ways to make predictions about a text, and I'm all about supporting students' intuitive understanding and personal background knowledge. I want students to bring their whole selves into the classroom and make predictions based on their identities and lived experiences. But I also want students to be able to cite their sources and back up their claims. 

To become proficient readers, our students need to be able to make reasonable predictions about a text, which means they must be based on reality.  

When you ask your students to make a prediction or an inference, ask them to back it up with 2-3 pieces of evidence. Flip through the pages to find the words, phrases, and images that helped them develop this understanding. It can be very difficult at first, so start off with easier texts or more concrete questions. 

This is a great way to take a closer look at how writers write, too!

10. Write Your Own Ending

This is one of the most fun predicting reading strategies because there are so many possibilities! Once you get to the climax of a book, stop reading and have students write their own ending. How will the problems in the book be resolved? What will happen at the end? Jot it all down! 

Although this is a fantastic activity for older students, you can certainly scaffold this for younger readers, too! Instead of writing your own ending, ask them to draw their predictions. You can also go back to the comic strip idea and have them sketch out a few panels of action. Share and explain the predictions in small groups or with the whole class before finishing the book together. 

Your students will never pay closer attention to the end of a book ever!

More Reading Strategy Resources