Recurring Lesson

Focus on First Lines: Increasing Comprehension through Prediction Strategies

9 - 12
Lesson Plan Type
Recurring Lesson
Estimated Time
Introduction: 50 minutes; thereafter: 5-10 minutes per session
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At the beginning of a course or unit, students examine opening sentences from texts that they will read completely in later sessions. Students analyze the sentences and make predictions about the texts. As students read the complete texts throughout the course or unit, they return to their predictions to talk about the prediction strategy and to increase reading comprehension. The lesson plan includes sample opening lines for a variety of courses. The lesson can be easily adapted for any course or unit by collecting opening lines from texts that the class will read as a group.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

In When Kids Can't Read, Kylene Beers explains, "Skilled readers consciously try to anticipate what the text is about before they begin reading. They look at the cover, art, title, genre, author, headings, graphs, charts, length, print size, front flaps, and back covers. . . . They do anything to find out something before they begin reading. Dependent readers, on the other hand, often don't do that; they are told to read something, and once the text is in hand, they just begin" (74). The comprehension strategy outlined in this lesson interrupts the habits of dependent readers by asking them to focus their attention on what they can tell from the first lines of a story, play, poem, or other text.

Further Reading

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.




  • Make copies or an overhead transparency of the Opening Lines handout that is appropriate for your class, choosing from these options:

    • Use one of the existing handouts, based on the kinds of texts you will cover in your course or unit: American Literature, British Literature, Contemporary American Literature, World Literature, or Young Adult Literature.

    • Modify one of the existing lists above to fit the needs of your class. You might want to use a smaller number of quotations or to remove the author's name (since it may be a clue to time period for some students).

    • Create your own handout, pulling the first lines from pieces that you will read over the course of the class or unit. As you assemble your handout, be sure to mix the quotations chronologically so that students are encouraged to use clues from the sentences to decide on the time period for the quotation.

  • Make copies or overhead transparencies of the Recording Sheet and the Recording Sheet Sample.

  • If do not have computer access in your classroom, make copies of the printable Think-Aloud Predictions for "Young Goodman Brown." Prepare to talk through the think-aloud outlined on the sheet with students as a demonstration of the process.

  • Test the online Think-Aloud Predictions for "Young Goodman Brown" on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tools and ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the technical support page.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • predict content, genre, and time period of literature from an opening sentence.

  • explain how they arrived at their predictions.

  • analyze stylistic choices authors make.

Before Reading Any Works in the Class or Unit

  1. Explain that you'll be starting the class or unit by looking at first sentences (or first lines, in the case of poetry) from works that you'll be reading during the class or unit. For each of the sentences, students will make predictions for the story based on what they see in the first sentence.

  2. Either pass out copies of the Recording Sheet, or display the chart with an overhead projector so that students can copy the headings into their journals or notebooks. Students will need a copy of the sheet for each quotation, or they can use one copy as a model and work on their own paper.

  3. Discuss the meaning of each of the headers, to ensure that students understand the requirements.

  4. Ask students to look at the Table of Contents in their literature books, and orient them to the information that they can gather from the unit headings. For instance, point to information about time periods, literary movements, and genre information that might help students as they choose categories for the quotations.

  5. Emphasize that you do not expect-you do not even want-students to page through the textbook and search frantically for each line. Explain that they only have a couple of minutes to read, think about, and make their predications for each quotation.

  6. Project the online Think-Aloud Predictions for "Young Goodman Brown" and work through the procedure for thinking of each of the words by clicking on and sharing the think-aloud details listed. Alternatively, students can work individually or in small groups and explore the interactive on their own to get a sense of the kind of exploration and thinking that is expected for the activity.

  7. Once you've read through all of the information in the interactive, or students have fully explored it on their own, project the Recording Sheet Sample and reinforce the final information that students are to record on their sheets or in their notebooks or journals for each quotation.

  8. Explain that students should be ready to volunteer the ideas for their predictions, just as was demonstrated for "Young Goodman Brown."

  9. Pass out the Opening Lines handout for American Literature, British Literature, Contemporary American Literature, World Literature, or Young Adult Literature, or hand out the opening lines that you have selected from your readings. If desired, project a copy of the handout on an overhead transparency for modeling.

  10. Remind students that there is not a "right" or "wrong" way to make predictions about a text, but emphasize that readers should be able to support their predictions from the information in the sentence.

  11. When students have made their predictions, go through the quotations with the entire class, discussing the variety of responses.

  12. Ask student volunteers to share their predictions. After students share their preliminary ideas, follow up by asking if there are other predictions as well as asking other students to share similar and differing predictions for each quotation.

  13. As discussion naturally allows, draw attention to writing terms, such as word choice and sentence style, and literary terms, such as metaphor and alliteration.

  14. Ask students to save their predictions, explaining that you will return to them when you read each of the texts that the quotations came from in class.

As You Read Each Text Included on Your Handout

  1. As you cover each text that you have included in your opening activity in class, focus pre-reading on students' original predictions by asking students to review their Recording Sheets. Students might work in groups or individually.

  2. Ask students to note any changes or additions to their predictions in their journals before reading the text.

  3. Cover the stories in your class sessions as you would any other reading, completing any comprehension and discussion activities that are appropriate for your students.

  4. Encourage students to return to their original predictions after reading the text, assessing their original predictions and building evidence to support those predictions which are accurate. Alternately, students can create new predictions as well.

  5. Have students review the explanations they made at the beginning of the term in support of their predictions.

  6. Ask them to identify any differences between the explanations for accurate predictions and explanations for predictions that didn't match the text.

  7. Overall, the discussion of the original prediction and the first line of the text should take no more than 5 minutes for each text. Place the focus exploring the full text, not just its first line.

  8. As you read texts, encourage students to use their prediction skills at other points in their reading. Explore all the aspects of a text that Beers suggests that skilled readers investigate: cover, art, title, genre, author, headings, graphs, charts, length, print size, front flaps, and back covers.

  9. Be sure to connect discussion of foreshadowing for the works to the prediction strategy. Periodically, also ask students to reflect on their prediction process before reading the text. Ask students to write in their journals or notebooks in response to prompts such as "How has your process of making predictions changed since the beginning of the class?"

As You Read Other Texts

Extend your exploration of prediction strategies to all the readings that you do in the course, encouraging students to connect their prior knowledge to the texts they encounter. The following questions can guide your explorations:

  • What predictions would you make about this book (short story, poem, etc.) based on its title?

  • How does your knowledge of the time period and/or the author affect what you expect to find in this story?

  • What predictions would you make based on the first line?

  • What can you tell about the story by looking at the table of contents (or the chapter titles)?

  • Based on your reading to this point, what predictions would you make for the rest of the piece? (In other words, at the end of the first chapter, first paragraph, and so forth, what predictions would you make for the text?

Be sure to emphasize that the point is not to guess "right" answers, but to strengthen reading skills by focusing on what an author's word choice and other elements tell a reader.


  • Ask students to apply what they've learned about prediction and the significance of first lines to their own writing. You might focus a mini-lesson for a narrative writing project on the importance of first lines, or ask students to write first lines only then share their lines in class. To see an example of a similar lesson for younger students, check out the Leading to Great Places in the Middle School Classroom lesson plan.

  • Explore first lines in other genre and media-the first lines of songs, the first line of a commercial or advertisement, the beginning of a television show or movie.

  • If your textbook includes an index of first lines, ask students to search the index for 3 texts they would like to read based on the first line only. Compile class suggestions, and read the favorite pieces as a class. If your text does not include an index, you might choose collections from the library and complete the project in small groups, with each group choosing a text from their collection to share with the class, based on its first line.

  • For a more structured process that includes prediction, see the resource SQ4R—Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Review, Reflect.

  • Listen to the NPR radio story Famous First Words, in which librarian Nancy Pearl shares some of her favorite first lines from a variety of novels and discusses the significance of the first words of a text. Have students share their own favorite first lines from texts they have read.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Although you may track students’ comprehension and understanding of the prediction strategy anecdotally, neither the Opening Lines activity nor the general process used in following sessions needs direct or formal assessment. Since this Opening Lines activity is the first thing students do in the unit, look for participation and engagement.

  • You might ask students to note their predictions in their journals or notebooks at various points throughout the class. You can check for completion when you review students journals, but do not need to provide formal feedback.
K-12 Teacher
Dead link in the extensions section. The link of the Florida Department of Education resource
Lisa Fink, RWT Staff
K-12 Teacher
Thank you for bringing that link to our attention. It has now been fixed.
K-12 Teacher
Dead link in the extensions section. The link of the Florida Department of Education resource
Lisa Fink, RWT Staff
K-12 Teacher
Thank you for bringing that link to our attention. It has now been fixed.
K-12 Teacher
Dead link in the extensions section. The link of the Florida Department of Education resource
Lisa Fink, RWT Staff
K-12 Teacher
Thank you for bringing that link to our attention. It has now been fixed.

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