I heard about this pre-reading activity several years ago from a language arts teacher and adapted it so I could try it with upper elementary and middle school social studies kids. Probable Passages is a pre-reading strategy that integrates prediction, summarization, vocabulary instruction and story frames.

The strategy asks students to use key concepts, terms and other vocabulary to make predictions about a specific text. Probable Passages can be used with a variety of social studies text types including expository, narrative and persuasive. The goal is not necessarily have correct information the first time but to get a sense of what the text contains and to write (and think) using a style and structure similar to the text.

Using this strategy also provides a powerful incentive to discover whether the text is similar to their own work. When the strategy is introduced for the first time, it is important that the teacher model each stage, always thinking aloud.


1. Before reading a selected history or social studies text, provide a Probable Passages graphic organizer.

2. Provide an overview of the topic and share with students a list of words from the text that you have selected. (The actual number may be anywhere from three to ten, depending on grade level and text complexity.)

3. In groups of two or three, have students discuss possible meanings of the words for several minutes. Lead a whole group discussion to ensure common definitions.

4. Have students in small groups share possible ways that the words are related. Using a simple bubble graphic organizer often helps students see connections and similarities between words and phrases. For example, Robert E. Lee and George Meade were both Civil War generals. By working together, kids might also begin to connect the two generals with the battle at Gettysburg.

5. Students should now write a short passage based on their previous conversations. There’s not a strict format or rubric but the passage must use all of the words and phrases on the list and should attempt to predict what will be contained in the text.

6. Allow students to share their passages with their small group and provide time for revisions. Students now read the assigned text.

7. After reading, have students compare and contrast their Probable Passages with the actual text. This provides the opportunity for self reflection and to verify the accuracy of their thinking.

Have fun!