I noticed that the strategies you are already trying appear to be done without a computer. So, do you have computers your students can use? There are so many wonderful resources to help your pre-readers in Thinkfinity. I will share my 2 favorite “low tech” strategies/resources and 2 of my favorite online resources to help your early readers.
ReadWriteThink.org is a wonderful website to find resources for teaching reading and the site has a link called Printouts so you don’t need a computer for every child. Kids love the Alphabet Chart where they can fill in their own words or they can draw pictures. There is the Character Map, where the students describe their favorite characters and the teacher/students fill in the worksheet using the categories of appearance, actions, or reactions of others.
If your students have access to a computer, you can have them learn at the Electric Company where they make reading hip and entertaining. You could also have your students use the interactive Construct a Word to help with their letter sounds.
These are just a few to get you started. If you do a search in the search box and type in "pre-reading" you will come up with a diverse list. Let us know what you try and what your students like.
There is nothing in this world that is better as a pre-reading strategy than children's rhyming poetry. We have always had nursery rhymes and not only do children love them but they help the development of phonological awareness, a key literacy tool. In Britain there is a big push now towards getting more rhyming poetry into school classrooms because for many years now free-verse has taken over and this does nothing for children's reading and is not so good for performance poetry. A lot of my work goes into nursery schools and preschool groups. Children love rhymes - and so do many adults too.
You also may want to join the Reading & Language Arts group that is led by ReadWriteThink!
One strategy that I often use is an anticipation guide. In an anticipation guide, you pose statements before reading to which students respond that they agree or disagree. After completing the "before reading" section, students read the text to confirm or negate their original viewpoints, taking notes on the anticipation guide as they read. Finally, they fill in the "after reading" sections to convey their current (often, revised) viewpoints. I'll insert an example that I use in one of my courses below. Be sure to include the "notes" column so that students are required to rationalize their final decisions.
You can easily adapt this for any age. For young students, simply put happy/sad faces in the columns and provide short, concise statements that you read aloud to them. Or, do it as a whole class activity for young students. You can also check out this lesson plan on ReadWriteThink called "Using Pictures to Build Schema for Social Studies Content" at http://www.readwritethink.org/classroom-resources/lesson-plans/using-pictures-build-schema-1059.html?tab=3#tabs. It will provide you with an anticipation guide in the "Resources" tab and also give a detailed lesson plan that incorporates an anticipation guide.