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Saturday, January 8, 2011

Activating Prior Knowledge Part 1

Do you remember “Back to the Future?” with Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd? The unusual time machine Doc Brown rigged up was a Delorean car! It was just on T.V. last week.
Why didn’t I think to use a clip from that movie as a way to activate my students' prior knowledge about time traveling? Or use a clip with Phineas and Ferb? Or share a clip from the Magic School Bus Goes Back in Time? These clips would have certainly engaged my students and had them really thinking about our next reading story instead of me asking them: “Do you know anything about time machines?”

Activating Prior-Knowledge or Building Background Knowledge is a ‘must’ and just good teaching practice for building comprehension. It can be done before, during and after reading in any content area. According to Ellin Oliver Keene and Susan Zimmermann It has been known for some time that one of the most effective ways to improve comprehension is to "activate mental files" before reading. (from Mosaic of Thought, 1997, p.51)

Using Digital Media and online resources allows more students access while actively engaging them in these activities. Try the following strategies as BEFORE reading activators.

ANTICIPATION GUIDES: Use an Anticipation Guide to peak students’ curiosity about a topic. Visit this site for more information and templates: Reading Rockets. A technology twist on this technique could be to create your Anticipation guide using a free online survey tool such as Survey Monkey or Polldaddy. Students love ‘guessing’ before reading and using technology will totally grab their attention. Once the survey is complete you can share the results with the students. Take the survey again AFTER reading and compare the results as a quick assessment.

KWL CHARTS: The KWL chart has long been used as an effective strategy to find out what students KNOW about a topic, WANT to know or what they have LEARNED. Typically, we use 3 columns and write down the information. Why not have students create (either individually, with a partner or even as a whole class) a Word Cloud, which is a fun way to show words that go beyond listing, as a way to generate their K-W-L. Free online sites like ABCya and Wordle provide kids with a way to visually represent their ideas in an attractive and unique way.

VIDEOS & IMAGES: Using videos and other images can really help students relate to topics and ideas. Often they help activate knowledge to those students who do not have first-hand experience with a subject. Many schools subscribe to Discovery Education, which has videos and stills for every area of the curriculum. One free online video resource can be found at: Teachers’Domain, which has libraries featuring media from NOVA, Frontline, American Experience and other PBS sources. There are many sites that allow teachers and others to use photos without worry of violating copyright. Public domain photos can be found at PD Photo and Public Domain Pictures.

Good teachers are constantly activating prior knowledge to help their students learn. Modeling the above strategies and accessing the knowledge before students begin their reading will build their comprehension.

(Part 2 of this series will deal with the strategies to use During Reading!)

Top Photo:
photo credit: JD Hancock via photo pin cc


  1. Hi,
    This is fantastic. Your visual captivated me from the get-go! I can't wait to see Part 2...about strategies to use During Reading.

  2. i know this is meant to be about education, but i couldn't help while reading it... think, that most of this is useful in business and basically communication in general. got me thinking Nancy!

  3. Love your page!! It is great to have such useful ideas and links right at my fingertips!! I will put your ideas to use on Monday!!

  4. Nancy, this is great. I agree with anonymous above who said that she or he will put your ideas to use on Monday. You are a natural blogger! Keep them coming.

  5. Great ideas Nancy! It's too easy to just keep going with our teaching and not look to expand our students' thinking in creative ways!

  6. Thanks for those great video and image resources! Keep these great blogs coming!

  7. Great ideas and resources! Thanks

  8. These are terrific ideas and resources - Teacher's Domain is a goldmine. Thanks for sharing such relevant tools!

  9. Nancy,

    I'm so glad you're posting and sharing! I absolutely love Teacher's Domain...Ann is right "jack-pot". I just grabbed some great material for my unit on teaching Biomes!!! And you know I love that Wordle. Keep blogging Momma Carroll :-)

  10. NANCY!!!! Why can't I think more like you all of the time!! I too am going to use this right away. I want to use the website for aniticipations guides. We all love them, but run out of time to make them.
    Thank you for these awesome blogs. You are the best. I think you should think about doing this more often.

  11. i think students should be provided videos related to study. when students will watch this video they can visualize what they have learned in the class.


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