Monday, May 23, 2011

Building background knowledge prior to reading and learning

A few days ago, I wrote about activating background knowledge in learners before reading or learning new material. Today I will talk about building background, which I believe is a different but equally important process from activating background. I would like to discuss not the ways that we awaken the knowledge our students possess already, but ways in which we can help them to fill in the gaps of between the knowledge that they have and the knowledge that they need to fully understand the lesson or the text.

When it is apparent that students have gaps in their knowledge and background information, the teacher must take steps to assist students in building background before reading. Following are some strategies that teachers can use to assist their students in building background knowledge:
  1. Picture walk/Previewing the text. A picture walk is an essential element, in my opinion, of any pre-reading program, and should be done prior to any other background building activities in order to give students a framework for how the new background knowledge will be used. It gives students an opportunity to specifically preview the story they will be reading. If students have individual copies of the book or text, have them take a picture walk in pairs. They should discuss what they see in the pictures and titles, what they think the book or reading might be about, what they hope to learn from story, and how they can relate the pictures to their own knowledge or experience. Then, together as a class, take a picture walk and give the students the opportunity to share what they and their partners discussed. Make sure to ask questions about what the students see and help them make explicit connections between their own lives and experiences and the story.
  2. Video Viewing. Find a video or video clip about the topic of the reading.  Show it to the class and discuss it with students. Add any new knowledge to the KWL chart and any new words to the vocabulary chart.
  3. Manipulatives and Predictions. Select several items from the story or related to the topic for which you can find miniature representations. Divide students into small groups and provide a basket of the miniatures to each group. Have students discuss each of the manipulatives and discuss what they remind them of and predict how they might be related to the story or topic.
  1. Concept Definition Mapping. The concept definition map can be used to clarify and explore the key words or concepts in a lesson. Below is a sample Concept Definition Map for “war”, of course, this is only one example of a concept definition map, which can take on many forms and formats.
  1. Think-pair-share. After introducing a concept or topic related to the reading, give students 2 minutes to think and write a few sentences about what they already know, and one question that they hope will be answered. Then have students pair off and share what they wrote with a partner. Return to large group and give students an opportunity to share what their partner new or wanted to know. Give students the opportunity to answer another student’s question if they can.
  2. Current events. If reading a non-fiction book about a real world event, situation or phenomena (hurricanes, tornadoes, homelessness), then gather a selection of news and magazine articles related to the topic (preferably with pictures). If necessary, adapt the text for readability for students. Give students the opportunity to read in pairs or small groups. Then have the groups discuss and write 1-2 sentences about how the article they read may relate to their lives or personal experiences.
  3. Cubing. This is a writing activity that can be useful for looking at a subject from six different sides. It can also be used as an individual or pair activity for building background knowledge. This strategy can be used for something as simple as a pencil or water to a complicated issue such as homelessness.
    1. Describe it: consider and visualize the subject in detail. What does it look like? Think about colors, shapes and memories.
    2. Compare it: What is the object or idea similar to? What is it different from? Explain how.
    3. Associate it: What does it make you think of?
    4. Analyze it: How is it made? How does it work? If you are not sure, make a prediction.
    5. Apply it: Tell what you can do with it. How can it be used? How does it work?
    6. Argue for or against it: Take a stand. Why are you in favor of or against this object?
  4. PreP strategy. This strategy helps teachers to assess the background knowledge of the students and to build their background knowledge by hearing what their peers know about the topic. The PreP strategy follows the following steps:
1.       Initial associations- students are asked to jot down whatever comes to their mind when they think of a particular word or concept
2.      Sharing- students are asked to share what they wrote. The teacher checks to ensure that each student has a chance to get his or her idea listed on a collective list.
3.      Reflecting- if a student does not offer a rationale, the teacher should ask each student why s/he make that particular association. The added discussion facilitates the building of background for the rest of the class.
4.      Organizing conceptually- once each student has had the chance to share, students are divided into groups to consider what types of categories they might be able to classify these terms into  (the teacher may also designate the categories and simply have students organize the words within them).
5.      Discussion- the teacher should now lead a full-class discussion to determine the thinking of various groups.
Once students have completed the PreP strategy, they should have discovered that even if they thought they knew nothing about a topic or concept, they have discovered through discussion with their classmates that they really do know something.

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