Areas of Expertise


Adolescent Literacy

Reading Strategies

Strategy: Probable Passage

Wood, K. (1984). "Probable Passage: A Writing Strategy." The Reading Teacher, 37, pp. 496–499.

Beers, Kylene. (2003). When Kids Can't Read. Heinemann. pp. 87–94.



The Probable Passage strategy has been developed to encourage struggling readers to activate their prior knowledge; to recognize connections to their own experiences, to another text, or to the world; and to make predictions about what might happen. By doing so, students' understanding of what is being read is greatly improved. Using this strategy as a prereading activity not only introduces readers to vocabulary they will encounter, it also provides a powerful incentive to read and discover that the story follows the outline that has been suggested. When the strategy is introduced for the first time, it is important that the teacher model each stage, always thinking aloud.


  1. The teacher chooses eight to fourteen words or phrases from the story and writes them on an overhead or the chalkboard. The words should include ones that reflect the characters, setting, problem, and outcomes, as well as some unknown words that are critical to the theme of the selection.
  2. The class is divided into groups of three and presented with a Probable Passage worksheet that includes boxes that are labeled "Characters," "Setting," "Problem," "Outcomes," and "Unknown Words." In addition to these boxes, there are lines designated for writing a gist or prediction statement. Finally, there is a "To Discover" section that encourages the group to write down what they hope to find out during the reading.
  3. Working as a group, the students discuss all of the words and phrases and decide into which box to put each one. As many of these as possible should be used, but it is not necessary to place all of them in a box. It is important to remind the class that the "Unknown Words" are ones that the meanings are not known, not just those that the group can't decide into which box they should go.
  4. The gist or prediction statement is written, as well as the "To Discover" questions.
  5. When the worksheets are finished, each group shares the results and reads their gist statement aloud.
  6. Brainstorm as a class what they want to discover when reading the selection.
  7. Read the text.
  8. After reading, compare the Probable Passages and discuss into what categories the author would have placed the words. Also, students can reflect how using this strategy helped in understanding the text


  1. An appropriate expository text is chosen.
  2. Students are asked to begin with the "S–survey" by looking through the entire chapter and reading each heading, looking at each picture, reading each caption, and looking carefully at each map or graph that might be included. By doing this, they will gain a sense of the main ideas presented in the material, as well as activate and build prior knowledge. If there is a summary or questions at the end of the chapter, these should also be read.
  3. Next, the "Q–question" portion of the strategy is addressed. The students are instructed to turn one subheading at a time into a question and write it down. This sets a purpose for reading.
  4. Each section is then "R–read" to answer the question.
  5. To clarify the question in the student's mind, it is important at this point for the student to answer the question in his or her own words. This gives them a chance to silently "R–recite" what they have learned.
  6. Finally, when all of the material has been explored in this way, it is time for the students to "R–review"what has been read. This can be done with either an oral or written summarization, which should include the main idea of each section along with supporting details.

The goal of this exercise is to teach students how to self-monitor their reading so they can determine if it makes sense.


An excellent example of the Probable Passage strategy can be found in When Kids Can't Read by Kylene Beers (note citation above). The novel Forgive My Guilt by Robert Tristram Coffin was being read by the class. A detailed description of the use of Probable Passage is found on pages 87–92.

A second example of Probable Passage can be found on the above-listed website, complete with an activity designed to be used with the novel Wish You Well by David Baldacci.


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