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Spark Student Interest Before a Lesson

In image of an abacus with the text "Spart Student Interest Before a Lesson"

I teach college courses for special education teachers and one of our discussion topics is about "pre-reading" activities that a teacher can do right before reading a book with students to help them with reading the book and with comprehension.

One of the concepts in this discussion is the anticipatory set in a lesson plan.

An anticipatory set is a brief activity that takes place before a lesson begins and accomplishes a few things:

  • Gains the students’ attention,

  • Links prior learning to the new topic, and

  • Links to the objectives of the lesson.

An anticipatory set may be more effective if it is interesting, fun, or thought-provoking (CDE Facility Schools, 2010). Note: you can find some examples of anticipatory sets at end of this post.

Some authors (e.g., McTighe & Brown, n.d.) indicate that using an anticipatory set can engage (or “hook”) student interest in the topic and stimulate their thinking. Some possible ways to spark this interest can include asking interesting questions about the topic, presenting real-life problems or issues about the topic, and using humor.

I recently read a quote about anticipatory sets that I thought captured the essence of their purpose: "I approach science with a sense of wonder, as almost magical. I begin my science lesson plan with an intriguing idea or question to engage students. My favorite approach is a question because questions arouse students’ curiosity." (Vang, 2006, p. 37).

As defined above, another important component of an anticipatory set is to activate prior knowledge about a topic to help the student make connections between what they already know and the new topic. For more information about this, you can view this blog post about using "advance organizers."

Here are some examples of anticipatory sets:


CDE Facility Schools. (2010). Instructional practices that make a difference: Direct, systematic, explicit instruction - Anticipatory set. Retrieved from

McTighe, J., & Brown, J. L. (n.d.). Differentiated instruction and educational standards: Is détente possible? Theory Into Practice, 44(3), 234-244.

Vang, C. T. (2006). New pedagogical approaches for teaching elementary science to limited English proficient students. Multicultural Education, 13(3), 37-41.

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