Word Grab Bag


This activity engages students in previewing a text by scanning it to pull out interesting names, words, and phrases.  Students then use this “word grab bag” to write their own composition, which can serve as a prediction of the text content.  This activity helps students to interact with the text before reading it: to notice text structure and to make some inferences about content, and to begin to activate prior knowledge and generate interest.  Through such previewing, students are more engaged and better prepared to read.

Learning Strategies 

  • Inferring
  • Predicting
  • Synthesizing

Lesson Plan Stages 

  • Investigation
  • Synthesis

Content Areas 

  • ELA
  • Math
  • Science
  • Social Studies

Learning Strands 

  • Reading

Common Core Instructional Shifts 

  • Academic Vocabulary
  • Staircase of Complexity
  • Text-Based Answers


  • Identify the text you would like to focus on.  This activity works well with both narratives and nonfiction. 


Activity Steps 
  1. Teacher briefly discusses the value of previewing a text. Teacher displays a text excerpt, and models scanning the text quickly and pulling out interest names/words/phrases.

    As you model, run your finger or a pointer quickly through the text, to indicate that you are not reading every word.  Think aloud as you model, explicitly explaining how you are picking out interesting words.  Don’t select words that would be likely to appear in any text, and instead primarily select words or names that are more distinctive.  These more distinctive words are likely to more accurately reflect the unique content of this text. 

  2. Teacher distributes text to students. Students prepare to write their notes.

    Students can work from a whole book, or from a smaller excerpt.  Remind them that they are scanning/skimming, and NOT reading every word. 

  3. Students scan through the text, and make a list of approximately 15-20 words, names, or phrases that jump out at them.
    If students are reading narratives or historical text, remind them that names are likely to be very important (and are easy to pick out, since they are capitalized).  Otherwise, they should select words that jump out at them, and that are rich with meaning.  Some common words are likely to be helpful (like “girl”), whereas others are unlikely to be helpful (like “was”).  Words or phrases that repeat, that are unusual or surprising, and that create an image in the student’s mind are good ones to pick.
    As students work, circulate among them, asking them what words they have noticed.  You can look at a page in each student’s text and model picking out an interesting word and explaining why you chose it.
    You may want to assign a time limit to this step.  10 minutes should be appropriate.
  4. Students look through their list of words/phrases/names. Working alone or with a partner, students brainstorm ways in which these words/phrases/names could be combined in a composition. Students write a composition that makes sense, and that incorporate
    Remind students that they want to create something that is a solid piece of writing that both makes sense and sounds good.  They should not strive to fit as many of the words as possible into a few sentences, since this will likely result in a piece that is nonsensical and awkward. 
    You can choose ask students to write something that predicts what they will read in the real text, or you can allow them more creativity.
  5. Teacher leads students in a discussion about the words they selected, how they think the words are connected, and what they predict will be the content of the text.

    You can also ask several students to share their work aloud, or you can generate a class-wide list of key words that you can display and refer to while students are reading the text. 

  6. Students reflect on their learning alone or individually, orally or in writing.

    Students should respond to questions including:

    • What can you learn from scanning a text?
    • How can key words help you to predict content?
    • How does making predictions affect your comprehension and your learning?
    • When might this activity be most useful for you?
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