Pre-Teaching to Support Content Mastery

Level the playing field by introducing content prior to the lesson
47 teachers like this strategy

About This Strategy

Incorporating “Pre-Teaching” into classroom structure creates a consistent, predictable routine while providing teachers with dedicated time to address needs of a variety of students, including students who need support accessing information due to language needs or disabilities.  Pre-teaching may be used to target a group of students with similar needs such as those learning English or students who have a disability.  Pre-teaching may also be used with struggling learners who do not have a label or those who have been referred to a Student Intervention team may also benefit from being included in a pre-teaching group.  

Implementation Steps

  1. Structure your class period to include a 15 minute flex time frame that will allow you, a special education teacher, paraprofessional, ESL teacher, or a peer tutor to facilitate the guided pre-teach activity. Consult the resources section for ideas on structuring this flex time in both 90- and 50- minute class periods.
  2. Identify the learning target for the lesson. For support in doing so, consult Defining Learning Targets in the resources section.
  3. Identify the foundational skills students will need in order to be successful during the lesson. Some ideas to consider when determining foundational skills include:

    • New or Prior vocabulary words (i.e. content vocabulary, large words, figurative language, idioms, etc.)

    • Cultural or Experiential connections that will support mastery of the content skill.

    • Foundational Math Skills (i.e. if the lesson is solving two-step equations, students need to be able to identify and use inverse operations)

    • Instructions/Techniques/Safety Rules/etc. necessary for a Science Lab

    • Game Rules

    • Behavior Expectations

  4. Determine the best method for teaching the foundational skill. These methods include: 

    • Explicit Instruction:  Using direct, structured procedures to explain and model content skills.

    • Cognitive Strategy Instruction: Emphasizing or focusing on the thinking process used to approach an academic skill or problem set

    • Advance Organizers:  A tool that helps students visually connect information whether it be prior knowledge, content from other subject areas, or content from another lesson.  

    • Creating a Glossary or Word Wall with definitions of context vocabulary

    • Summarizing upcoming text and CLOZE Activities to provide students with important information or central themes prior to the lesson. For more information about CLOZE activities, consult the resources section.

  5. Develop a guided activity (i.e. frayer model, flow chart, venn diagram, group discussion, mind map, CLOZE summary over the text, foldable activities, etc.) that engages students in active learning with the content and the teacher.  

  6. Meet with the identified group(s) during flex time to pre-teach the content in preparation for future lessons or experiences. 

EL Modification

Incorporating “Pre-Teaching” into classroom structure will meet the needs of a variety of students including students who need support with learning the English language.   Pre-teaching allows those students who are learning the English language an opportunity to interact with new words and language before it is utilized in class.  Teachers can introduce new words and phrases or allow time for students to translate into their own language and begin to make connections to their own experiences.  This may also be a time to introduce students from other cultures to American norms (i.e. taking turns, making eye contact, asking questions during class, etc.), holiday traditions (i.e. Halloween, Santa Claus at Christmas, etc.), and common cultural references like picture books.


  1. Conference with an ESL teacher to determine the best pre-teaching method for ESL students.
  2. Identify students who are struggling in one of the target language areas (BICS, CALP, cultural or experiential background, etc.).  Students who have a command of Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS) may appear to communicate clearly with their peers and with you, but they may be struggling with Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP).  For more information regarding this concept, consult the figurative language article listed in the resources below. 
  3. Identify the foundational skills for the learning target that English Language Learners may need additional help with:

    • New or Prior vocabulary words (i.e. content vocabulary, large words, figurative language, idioms, etc.)

    • Cultural or Experiential connections common in the U.S. that might not be common where the student is from (i.e. voting, Halloween, Thanksgiving, taking turns during games or sports, etc.)

  4. Determine the best method for teaching the foundational skill.

    • Creating a glossary (or word wall) in the students’ native language.

    • Provide pictures or visual demonstrations of concepts in order to help students who may be struggling to understand your words.

Special Education Modification

Incorporating “Pre-Teaching” into classroom structure will meet the needs of a variety of students who experience learning challenges.  Some of the ways pre-teaching can support students who have special needs are listed below.  Students who struggle with a variety of disabilities can benefit from the scaffolding provided by pre-teaching. These disabilities include, but are not limited to: cognitive conceptualization, working memory, emotional control or impulse control, and receptive language disorder. Teachers can consult the resource linked below to learn more about these disabilities.


  1. Review Individual Education Plans for students in your class. Pay close attention to the student's present levels of academic achievement, as outlined in the IEP. Also review information that describes how the student's disability impacts their educational performance.  Students who struggle with Cognitive Conceptualization, Working Memory, Emotional or Impulse Control or Receptive Language will benefit from pre-teaching.
  2. Considering the needs of your students, purposefully plan explicit or cognitive strategy instruction to facilitate any flex time activity, whether it is a graphic organizer, practice math problems, or a CLOZE activity, etc. because one thing all students with disabilities have in common is the struggle to independently work through material and self-teach (learn) from independent practice activities.
  3. Knowing students' strengths, weaknesses and learning goals will help you to identify the foundational skills students will need in order to be successful during the lesson.
    Students with disabilities may have gaps in their prior learning (or may never have learned it) such as prior vocabulary, previous math skills, and study techniques. Pre-teaching (or re-teaching) prior grade level material before the lesson will help students learn or recall these necessary skills, preparing them to participate fully in the lesson. 
  4. Considering your students' disabilities, some students may need earlier exposure to content. Build in earlier exposure during the flex time period to specifically address the needs of students with disabilities.  For example, if you are teaching an upper level math class and you know students have never heard of a Unit Circle, you may want to start exposing them to the unit circle sever chapters prior to when you start using it.
  5. Students with Autism may have unique challenges understanding things we expect to be common knowledge, like cultural or experiential connections, behavior expectations (such as taking turns during a game), or processes that impact safe use of equipment. This is called the hidden curriculum, and pre-teaching of these concepts will benefit students with autism. For more information regarding the hidden curriculum, please consult the resources below. 
  6. Students who struggle with cognitive conceptualization will likely benefit from both verbal and visual representations of information.  Diagrams and graphic organizers summarizing upcoming content can help them begin to make connections between concepts and skills you are teaching.
  7. Students who struggle with working memory may show significant gains from using the pre-teaching strategy.  The actual instructional technique (i.e. graphic organizer, worksheet, etc.) is less important than the instruction itself.  Many professionals believe the key here is multiple exposures because each time the student is exposed to the information, the brain will have a better chance of grabbing it from working memory and converting it to long-term memory.  Teachers should focus on providing explicit, guided instruction.  It replaces some of the burden on the individual’s working memory because the facilitator can cue the student to information that has already been forgotten.  Using a consistent cognitive strategy approach may help students train their thinking process and begin to create pathways that help students to process, store, and access academic information.
  8. Students who struggle with behavior or impulse control may benefit from pre-teaching in three main ways.

    • Behavior Expectations in the Classroom: pre-teach expected behaviors for classroom activities such as group discussions, class games, labs/experiments, use of project supplies (especially for potentially unsafe things like sharp objects or using bunsen burner), etc.  Pre-teaching gives both an opportunity for them to process any upcoming changes and commit any behavior expectations or safety precautions to long-term memory before they are in the moment experiencing these things.  

    • Behavior Expectations for Special Events: Triage/Pre-teach expected behaviors and potential reactions to problems, and consequences of inappropriate behavior before events (i.e. change in schedule, guest speaker, assembly, field trips, etc.).

    • Academic Performance:  Students who struggle with behavior or impulse control also struggle to maintain focus.  They are at risk for missing important information.  Pre-teaching gives them an extra chance to gain necessary information and skills.  

  9. Students who struggle with receptive language are not gaining information from what is said or written.  The most common symptom is a struggle to learn new words.   

    • Students who are struggling to gain information from verbal instruction may become overwhelmed during class when they are trying to focus on both what you are saying and what they are seeing.  Repeat exposure through pre-teaching can diminish their anxiety and fill in the gaps for information they miss the first time around.  

    • Students who struggle to gain information visually (i.e. text, graphic organizers, diagrams, etc.) may need it organized differently on the page.  You may need to use larger font or more space.  Sometimes graphic organizers are “busy” and actually hinder a student’s ability to make sense of information.  

  10. Pre-Plant information during pre-teaching.  Students with disabilities often fail to participate in classes due to a lack of confidence.  You may boost their confidence and skills by providing them with questions and answers during pre-teaching.  You may provide written answers on a worksheet or note card for students to refer to during class.  Practice asking the question and letting the student respond during a pre-teaching session. 

Pre-Teaching for Distance Learning

Usually we think of pre-teaching as a way to close the gap for struggling learners.  However, we are finding some students who achieved well in the standard classroom may be struggling with distance or hybrid learning models.  Spending some time to pre-teach content will create multiple exposures to the same content, which allows students to commit new content and skills to long term memory over time.  You may choose to pre-teach to the entire class while you are in virtual or hybrid environments, or you may choose to select small, target groups as you did in the regular classroom. You may complete 1:1 checks via phone calls, emails, or office hours sessions.  Another way would be to hold small group synchronous meeting sessions for groups of students who need pre-teaching. 

Implementation Steps:

  1. Determine the students who need pre-teaching by analyzing a variety of data sources including IEPs, ILPs, assessments, and parent input.  Students who are struggling on independent practice assignments, exit ticket assessments, or unit tests and quizzes may all benefit from seeing information presented in a pre-teaching lesson.  Some ways to think about grouping pre-teaching include:

    • Whole Class

    • Small Group with ELL need

    • Small Group with IEPs

    • Small Group of heterogeneous needs

    • Hybrid Classroom Group

  2. Consider how to structure your class time to include a 15 minute time frame that will allow you, a special education teacher, paraprofessional,  or ESL teacher to facilitate the guided pre-teach activity.  You may consider teaching synchronous sessions in smaller groups for students with similar learning needs.  For more suggestions in cooperation pre-teaching in to the distance learning schedule, consult the resources below. 

  3. There are many tech tools that can help you develop guided lessons that allow you to engage with students in real time including,, and  Consult the Tech Tools block listed below for further information about how these can be used to support distance learning.  

  4. Consider pre-teaching time management and study skills to students.  Remember the frontal lobe of the brain is responsible for these skills, but it isn’t fully developed until we are in our mid-twenties!  Even our oldest students are struggling with where to find assignments (Is it in Google Classroom or the online textbook?) and when to complete assignments (What do you mean I was supposed to do that during asynchronous time?  I was working yesterday.).

Related Lessons

  • This strategy can be used with my Adding and Subtracting Polynomials Lesson Plan  because it demonstrates how a structured class period can incorporate a flexible time for pre-teaching. In this lesson, pre-teaching occurs during step 2, "Building Knowledge/Mini-Lesson." 

  • This strategy can be used with my Solving One-Step Equations Lesson Plan because it demonstrates a clear classroom structure for incorporating a flexible time for students who need pre-teaching or an opportunity to pursue extended learning interests. In this plan, pre-teaching occurs during step 2, "Building Knowledge/Mini-Lesson."

Tech Tools

  • is a web based whiteboard program that allows checks for understanding in a low risk environment. Teachers are able to view all students' whiteboards but students are not able to see each others’. 
  • is a good resource for pre-teaching because it allows you to see student responses in real time.  You are able to push images and diagrams to their whiteboards and you are able to watch them highlight, circle, or type answers.


  • Peardeck is an interactive presentation and lesson delivery tool. Students use their devices to follow along with the teacher's slideshow on a classroom screen. Throughout, teachers can pause at points where they've added interactive questions and collect real-time data about student understanding.
  • This resource allows you to add short response or multiple choice type questions to your virtual pre-teaching presentations.


  • Jamboard is a Google Suite app designed to help groups create and visualize ideas.  The interface is a hybrid design of both a virtual whiteboard and a slide presenter.  Participants can write, type, add images, or add sticky notes to each slide. 
  • Jamboard is helpful for virtual pre-teaching because it allows students to share their ideas, brainstorm, label diagrams, or even answer simple questions posed by the teacher.