After the mini-lesson portion of a guided reading lesson, it is time to activate student’s prior background knowledge. For example, if the book is about the ocean, ask students what they already know about the ocean or sea life (you can simply accept responses and make it an oral conversation, or you may want to record responses and make a list or a spider graph. Next, make connections from their responses that will draw their interest toward the text that is about to be read.
You may wish to follow student responses with a personal experience that you have had with the subject. My students always love to hear these personal stories, they find the notion that teacher’s having a life outside of the classroom is suspect, at best. I might relate an experience such as the following. (Holding a shell) I might say. “One time I was able to sail on a giant cruiseship across the ocean.” (I will show a personal picture of me on the ship). “One day as our ship was cruising, right out of my window I saw a large whale jump into the air.” “This trip on the ocean was so exciting for me, I brought back this seashell so I can better remember it and all of the great ocean creatures I was able to see.”
The kids are now ready! They want to know more about the ocean! At this time, show the students the selected book (teacher holding the copy), and take a "picture walk" (an important tool which builds confidence and support for the reading strategy of using pictures as context clues). To do this, turn through the book page by page calling attention to the pictures. Ask questions such as “What do you see on this page?”; “What do you think is happening on this page?” and “Do you know what this is a picture of?”
Before you turn the last page, allow students to predict what picture might be on the last page to represent the ending of the story. Remember to guide this activity with great care and thought, intentionally implanting important vocabulary words along the way.
Check out these great thematic guided readers: