Let me tell you something - planning a pre-reading unit is ESSENTIAL to the success of your students. If you really want students to get all that they can out of a novel that you're studying as a class, it's important that they understand the foundations and the background.
So here you have it: in 5 easy steps, how to create a BOMB pre-reading unit that your students will love AND benefit from. As I guide you through my steps, I was designing a pre-reading unit for Dear Martin by Nic Stone. So I'll give you some insight into my thought process.
1. Determine what background knowledge students need to understand the context of the novel (such as the setting, significant historical figures or events, time period, etc).
For the purpose of this novel, students would need to have an understand of who Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was, his contribution to civil rights and understand WHY Justyce would be writing to him during this time in history and in his own life.
I also decided that students would need to understand the Black Lives Matter Movement, among other things.
2. Determine cultural issues, potential triggers, and other issues and then brainstorm and research ways to be inclusive, sensitive, aware and accurate.
Since I was building a unit geared towards a novel about racial injustice, I knew that these would be major themes that would need to be addressed. When working on a pre-reading unit, make sure that you are culturally sensitive. Do your research, and make sure you are doing the topics justice.
3. Find diverse, relevant and accurate texts and media to scaffold background knowledge for students.
No matter WHAT you're reading, make sure that you are providing additional literature from a diverse selection of authors. NO. MATTER. WHAT. And if you're dealing with sensitive subjects, make sure that you select additional literature and media from that particular population.
4. Lay out your timeline and the various topics that you want to cover. (I call this "chunking".)
This part is so therapeutic for me. I try not to let a pre-reading unit go longer than 2 weeks. I feel like 2 weeks is a nice sweet spot. Since what we have students read typically has a lot of substance, it's important they get foundational knowledge, but will do more "exploring" during the actual reading unit!
5. FINALLY: Plan and create your lessons!
This is the biggest piece of the prep, but well worth it. This is the stuff we live for, right? Design and plan your awesome lessons. I also try and incorporate at least 1 activity where students are up and moving, lots of awesome (and diverse!) reading options, and plenty of room for individual inquiry as well as **some** direct instruction. Do what works best for your students and you'll plan an AWESOME unit!
6. BONUS: If you really want to engage your students (and who doesn't?) try to gamify at least one aspect of your unit.
For me, I built a digital escape room for students to work through as the last day of the mini unit before actually starting the novel! It focuses on the information that they learned about, gave them a few new interesting tidbits, and tied in the author and the novel as well.