Learn what works

Prediction is fundamental to comprehension. According to Duffy, predicting is the strategy most relied upon as we begin reading. Good readers anticipate meaning. They do this by predicting what they think is going to happen in the selection and by revising their predictions as they read. As soon as a reader sees the title of a selection, looks at a picture on a cover, or even reads a first line, prior knowledge is sparked, and on the basis of that prior knowledge, predictions or hypotheses take flight.  Duffy contends that the secret to making predictions as one begins to read is to combine the clues the author provides with previous experiences to make valid guesses about what will occur.

Predicting is universal in that emergent readers of all ages make predictions as they listen to stories read to them or read on their own. More proficient readers make predictions when reading expository text. Consequently, predicting can be taught to students of all ages and is appropriate for multiple levels of both narrative as well as expository text.

Successful readers pay attention to what is happening and anticipate that there might be a need to change a prediction. Frequent monitoring and re-predicting is repeated as readers proceed through text. The “predict ~ monitor ~ re-predict” process is not accomplished in one pass-through, but is rather a cyclical process that occurs continuously as readers maneuver their way through text. Predictions can be based on three kinds of prior knowledge:

  • Prior knowledge about a topic
  • Prior knowledge about a type of text
  • Prior knowledge about a particular purpose for reading

Students rely on previous study and experiences to make educated guesses about material to be read. As noted in Understanding Reading, (1988) Smith defined predicting as the prior elimination of unlikely alternatives. He further suggests, “Readers do not normally attend to print with their minds blank, with no prior purpose and with no expectation of what they might find in the text. The way readers look for meaning is not to consider all possibilities, nor to make reckless guesses about just one, but rather to predict within the most likely range of alternatives. Readers can derive meaning from text because they bring expectations about meaning to text.”

Predicting is related to inferring. However, readers predict outcomes, events, or actions that are confirmed or contradicted throughout the reading whereas inferential thinking is more complex.  To help your students understand the difference between predicting and inferring, encourage them to consider the outcome of an event or action each time they make a prediction and notice whether there has been a resolution. Simply put, predictions can be justified after reading commences, whereas inferences are rarely confirmed in actual text.

See how it works

Sample Planning Guide (Poe–anticipation guide)
Sample Planning Guide (extended anticipation guide)
Imagine, Elaborate, Predict, Confirm
Sample Planning Guide (To Kill a Mockingbird word scramble)

Reading is not a random process, but it is rather a system of conventions used to interpret and make sense of text. In cases where students need explicit instruction about making predictions, teachers may insert explanations into other activities. For example, when reading aloud instructors may:

  • Talk about predicting based on what they know about the topic as a natural part of the reading process. Teachers should draw attention to information received through the reading and allow students to make connections between clues from the text, prior knowledge, and/or experiences.
  • Pause periodically while reading to explain that making new predictions as a selection unfolds is an important and natural part of the reading process and a skill in which good readers intuitively engage.
  • Interview students about what they are thinking as they read or probe them to determine whether they make sound predictions about what will happen next. If students’ responses indicate that they are not anticipating meaning, an explanation may be helpful. Instructors may need to draw attention to events which have occurred in order to help students make and quantify sound predictions.
  • Ask students to describe what they were saying to themselves as they read. Student responses will indicate whether they are monitoring their predictions or questioning whether the meaning makes sense. Point out that accomplished and successful readers essentially engage in a silent ‘read aloud’ with thoughts that may sound like: “I’ve had experience with this topic. Given what my experiences are, this is what I believe will happen next….”


Watch this video from Teaching Channel to see an innovative way to make predictions about a text.

Do what works

Planning Template (Word Scramble Prediction)
Planning Template (Anticipation Guide)
Planning Template (Extended Anticipation Guide)
Planning Template (IEPC)

As noted in Adolescent Literacy Research and Practice, and according to Graves & Graves, Slater & Horstman, “predicting requires students to rehearse what they have learned thus far in their reading and begin the next section of the text with some expectation of what is to come.”


  • Dole (Eds.), Adolescent Literacy Research and Practice (pp. 40-58). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
  • Duffy, G. (2003). Explaining Reading: A Resource for Teaching Concepts, Skills, and Strategies. New York: Guilford Press.
  • Gallagher, K. (2004). Deeper Reading: Comprehending Challenging Texts, 4-12. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.
  • Harvey, S. and Goudvis, A. (2007). Strategies That Work: Teaching Comprehension for Understanding and Engagement. Portland: Stenhouse.
  • Slater, W.H. (2004). Teaching English from a Literacy Perspective: The Goal of High Literacy for All Students. In T.L. Jetton  & J. A.
  • Smith, F. (1988). Understanding Reading (4th ed.). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
  • Vacca, R.T. & Vacca J.L. (2008).  Content Area Reading: Literacy and Learning Across the Curriculum. (9th ed.). Boston: Pearson, Allyn & Bacon.