Standard Lesson

Using THIEVES to Preview Nonfiction Texts

6 - 8
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Three 40-minute sessions
  • Preview
  • |
  • Standards
  • |
  • Resources & Preparation
  • |
  • Instructional Plan
  • |
  • Related Resources
  • |
  • Comments


Students use previewing skills in their everyday lives to decide what foods to eat, clothes to buy, and movies to watch. In this lesson, students use previewing to activate their prior knowledge and set a purpose for reading. Using a strategy called THIEVES, which is an acronym for title, headings, introduction, every first sentence in a paragraph, visuals and vocabulary, end-of-chapter questions, and summary, students are guided through a preview of a nonfiction text. After guided practice, partners work together to use the strategy to preview a chapter from a textbook. Students discuss what information they "stole" from the chapter and discuss how the strategy is useful in better understanding a text. In a culminating activity, students write a letter to their partner in which they describe why previewing is a helpful strategy and describe how to use the THIEVES approach.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

  • Surveying the specific elements of a textbook chapter will help students activate prior knowledge, as well as identify their purpose and expectations for reading the chapter.

  • Perusing the title, headings, introduction, topic sentences, visuals, vocabulary, end-of-chapter questions, and summary before reading the text itself helps readers identify important concepts, establish a context, and note significant points.

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

  • 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).
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 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.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.

Materials and Technology

  • An overhead projector

  • Content area textbooks or other nonfiction texts



1. Familiarize yourself with the purposes of previewing texts and activating prior knowledge by reading the online articles provided in the Resources section of this lesson plan.

2. Read the article A strategy for previewing textbooks: Teaching readers to become THIEVES, which is referenced in the From Theory to Practice section in the Preview tab of this lesson plan, to familiarize yourself with the elements of the THIEVES strategy.

3. Make transparencies of the two student handouts Becoming THIEVES and The Elements of THIEVES, and prepare for use of an overhead projector. You will need a marker to complete the transparencies.

4. Make a worksheet copy of the two student handouts for each student.

5. Practice using THIEVES on the chapter you will model on Session 1. If you plan to use the online sample chapters during any session of the lesson, peruse them in advance.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Brainstorm previewing strategies

  • Be able to identify the elements of the THIEVES acronym by configuring a semantic map or web

  • Demonstrate their abilities to use the THIEVES strategy by completing a self-directed worksheet

  • Demonstrate their understanding of the THIEVES strategy by explaining it in the writing of a letter to a friend

Session 1: Model Lesson

1. Announce to students that they are about to become thieves. Explain that they will learn how to "steal" information from texts before they actually read a chapter or article. If students are familiar with the term previewing, encourage them to share strategies they use to preview a chapter. If they are not familiar with previewing, ask them to brainstorm ideas on how they might look through a chapter before they begin reading to get an idea of what it is about. Discuss why previewing is a helpful reading strategy. Lead them to discover that previewing will help them activate prior knowledge, set a purpose for reading, and set expectations for reading so that they can better understand the concepts they are about to encounter.

2. Display the transparency for the Becoming THIEVES handout on an overhead projector. Give each student a copy of the handout as well. While brainstorming, encourage students to peruse a chapter they are about to encounter in their social studies or science textbook. With their help and suggestions, identify the elements that make up the THIEVES acronym. Students should fill in the handout as the teacher fills in the transparency interactively with the class. Inform students they will be using the Becoming THIEVES handout to perform THIEVES on future texts throughout the school year so they should take careful notes and ask questions as necessary. Emphasize to students that they may not find all of the THIEVES elements in every nonfiction text that they read.

3. After each element is identified, configure a semantic map or web of the elements by drawing lines out from each element and adding details to describe what information could be gathered from each one. Add details appropriate to the level of the class. Students should copy the semantic map or web on the back of their Becoming THIEVES handout to use for future reference.

4. Next, tell students that you will think aloud for them while you perform THIEVES on the chapter they have been perusing. Encourage them to listen carefully because they will be performing the strategy themselves on Session 2 of the lesson and throughout the rest of the school year. To guide you, put the transparency for The Elements of THIEVES handout on the projector. Answer the questions on the sheet and literally think out loud so students can follow your logic as you apply the strategy.

5. Summarize with students what they have learned about previewing texts using the THIEVES strategy.

Session 2: Practice Lesson

1. Review the elements of previewing a text using the THIEVES strategy (refer to the Becoming THIEVES handout completed in Session 1). Ask students why previewing is a helpful reading strategy.

2. Assign students to work with a partner. Using a chapter that students will encounter soon in their textbooks or a sample online chapter listed under the Resources and Preparation tab, have students complete The Elements of THIEVES handout. Each student should receive and complete his or her own worksheet. Partners may have the same answers since they are working together.

3. Stop partner work 10 minutes before the lesson is over and go over what students "stole" from the chapter. Help students verbalize a summary of what they think the chapter is about and how previewing the chapter could prove helpful to understanding the text when they read it.

4. Collect The Elements of THIEVES handout from each student and evaluate student's responses by providing helpful comments and feedback for each student.

Session 3: Assessment

1. Return The Elements of THIEVES handout to students. Describe and discuss those areas where students generally need further help.

2. Assign students to write a friendly letter to their partner describing why previewing is a helpful reading strategy and explaining how to use the THIEVES approach. Encourage students to use the two handouts Becoming THIEVES and The Elements of THIEVES for reference. Each student should compose his or her own letter individually. Encourage thoroughness and inclusion of details without simply reiterating notes from the handouts. Students should describe how to use THIEVES by specifically describing, not just listing, each of the elements. Tell students to flavor their letters with their personal voice to make the letters interesting and fun. If students do not finish the letter in class, they can complete it for homework and hand it in the next day.


  • Assign students increasingly difficult texts on which to perform the THIEVES strategy. Include texts across the content areas. Encourage students to challenge themselves and see how much information they can gather from texts above their reading comprehension level.

  • If necessary, focus on one or more of the elements to strengthen students' ability to glean information from them. For example, students may find it difficult to gather information from headings. If so, ReadWriteThink's lesson plan on Exploring How Section Headings Support Understanding of Expository Texts would be a useful extension.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Session 1. Teacher observation of student's participation in the class discussions; completion of the Becoming THIEVES handout

  • Session 2. Teacher observation of the student's involvement in partner work; completion of The Elements of THIEVES handout

  • Session 3. Assign a grade to the student's letter by evaluating the number of elements described accurately. For example, if a student lists 6 or 7 elements, the grade would be an A, and so on. Letters must also include the purposes for previewing a text.

Add new comment