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Story Impressions

By Doug Buehl,
Madison East High School teacher
Member, Wisconsin State Reading Association

November 1999

Key words introduce students to important terms

Teen athletes ... concussions ... soccer, football, volleyball ... susceptible ... head injury ... 62,800 ... headaches, sleep disorders ... high risk ... learning disabilities.

Can you piece together the storyline implied by the above chain of key words excerpted from a recent newspaper article? In all likelihood, by connecting these terms and drawing upon what you already know about this topic, you are able to successfully infer the gist of this public health report.

As you probably surmised, the article raises cautions about concussions suffered by teen athletes, especially those participating in sports such as soccer, football, and volleyball. Adolescents are more susceptible to head injury from concussions, and a recent study estimated that 62,800 of them receive at least mild sports-related concussions each year. Symptoms of a concussion include headaches and sleep disorders, and students with learning disabilities are especially at risk for lingering brain injury resulting from concussions.

By providing you with a chain of key words, I have prompted you to access what you might know about sports concussions and perhaps piqued your curiosity about what this article has to say about dangers for teen athletes. You were able to form an impression of the text before you actually read it.

The Strategy

Story Impressions (McGinley & Denner, 1987) is a strategy that introduces significant terms and concepts to students before they encounter them in an assignment. The strategy involves the following steps:

Step 1: Preview a text section or story, and identify a series of terms or short phrases (two to three words) that relate to significant information or plot events. List the terms as they are presented in the text, in the order students will encounter them while reading. This step serves to cue students to recognize a sequence of events or cause/effect relationships. Create a student worksheet with the terms arranged in a vertical column, connected by arrows to indicate order.

For example, to prepare students for a textbook passage on geysers, a science teacher might select a chain of terms and phrases that emphasize how volcanic activity leads to the heating of groundwater, which can create geysers. (See Earth Science example.)

Step 2: Next, have students work with partners to brainstorm the possible connections among the chain of “clues” on their worksheets. Using what they might know about some of the terms, they are encouraged to make predictions about both the content of the text and the meanings of some key words which may be unfamiliar.

In our earth science example, students can tap their knowledge about how volcanic activity generates heat as they brainstorm possible connections to geysers. Some students will realize that heated water builds up pressure, and this may be an explanation for phenomena such as the Old Faithful geyser. They may also need to form conjectures of the meanings of terms such as igneous, fissure, and constricted as they work on their predictions.

Step 3: Students are now ready to create their own impression of what the text may hold. In the box next to the word chains, students write a summary paragraph of their prediction of the text. All terms from the chain must be used in their paragraph, and students should integrate them into their writing in the order they appear on the list. Have partners volunteer to share their prediction summaries with the entire class.

Step 4: Now that students have encountered key terms and concepts, activated relevant prior knowledge, and entertained predictions about the material, they can test their impressions by reading the text selection or story. As they read, have them check off the terms in the chain which they accurately used in their prediction summaries.

To solidify the new learning, have students write a second summary paragraph, again using all the terms in the order they are represented in the chain. Have them contrast their prediction summaries with the ones they wrote after reading the article to highlight any similarities between their impressions and the actual text.


Story impressions introduce students to essential terminology and information before they become immersed in reading. In addition,

  • Students marshal what they know about a topic and brainstorm possible connections to the new material.
  • Students receive guidance in two comprehension tasks that are often difficult: determining importance and summarizing.
  • After sufficient practice, students can be asked to create their own chains of key terms as a comprehension activity and for use as story impressions to prepare their classmates for a new selection.

Further Resources:

McGinley, W. & Denner, P (1987). Story Impressions: A Prereading / Writing Activity. The Journal of Reading. December, 248-253.

Posted November 3, 1999


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