Learn what works

If students are to read text effectively, they must do so with a purpose.

Vacca and Vacca (2002) assert that a conceptual conflict provides students with a purpose for reading. Pre-reading situations that create “puzzlement, doubt, surprise, perplexity, contradiction, or ambiguity” will motivate readers to seek a resolution. Use of guiding questions, opinionaires, Write to Learn prompts, and discussions can all be used to create conceptual conflict.

A well-designed inquiry, a real-world problem or student interests can also provide authentic purposes for reading. A teacher might begin with an intriguing question or activity that is interesting enough to capture students’ attention, and rich enough to generate more questions from the students. As students design their investigations, their purposes for reading become clear and targeted.

According to Vacca and Vacca, readers should ask themselves two questions before they begin reading:

  • What do I need to know?
  • How well do I already know it?

These questions activate students’ schema and prior knowledge, allowing them to make predictions and set a purpose for their reading. Because these questions require metacognitive awareness, they also set up students to monitor and regulate their reading. These questions can be formalized for individual, small group, or whole group use by using a K-W-L chart. The “K” column is for listing what readers “know” about a topic, the “W” column is for listing what readers “want to know” and the “L” column is a place to later add what has been “learned.”

See how it works

K-W-L Chart
Sample Opinionaire (cultural attitudes)

Do what works

Blank K-W-L Chart
Opinionaire Tips
Write to Learn (Writing Break Prompts)


  • Armbruster, B., Lehr, F., & Osborn, J. (2001). Put Reading First: The Research Building Blocks for Teaching Children to Read. National Institute for Literacy, U.S. Department of Education, Washington, D.C.
  • Biancarosa, G., & Snow, C.E. (2004). Reading Next–A Vision for Action and Research in Middle and High School Literacy: A Report to Carnegie Corporation of New York. Alliance for Excellent Education, Washington, D.C.
  • International Center for Leadership in Education, Inc. (2000). Instructional Strategies: How to Teach for Rigor and Relevance. Leadership Media, Rexford, NY.
  • Vacca, R.T., & Vacca, J.A.L. (2002). Content Area Reading. Allyn & Bacon, Boston, MA.
  • Wilhelm, J. (2007). Engaging Readers & Writers with Inquiry. Scholastic, New York, NY.