Saturday, June 25, 2011

Dynamic Priming through the Senses

      One of the most important things you can do for your ELLs before reading is to provide plenty of dynamic priming. Priming combines the steps I've written about previously: activating background knowledge and building background knowledge. According to Brown (2010), priming not only helps students make connections to previously acquired background knowledge, but also assists students in closing the gaps that do exist in that knowledge by building new background.   Brown (2010) also asserts that priming requires that teachers come up with creative ideas to facilitate students in the building of background knowledge. Priming can be applied not only to content learning, but also to pre-reading preparation.
      One strategy for dynamic priming involves actively engaging the students in the topic of a reading by creatively allowing the student to experience some aspect of the idea or topic through sensory perception: sight, smell, touch, taste, sound, or even emotion. This type of dynamic priming should also appeal to a variety of multiple intelligences, and I have found that the sensory nature of such activities  will further aid in motivating students.
1.      Visualization. Guided visualization can be used in one of two ways. The first, guided visualization, involves giving students specific details about a place, idea, or concept to visualize. The second is to give students a vague prompt, and have them create their own visualization based on their background and experiences (schemata). For example, if you will be reading about different bodies of water, you might give students the following prompt: “You are standing next to the water’s edge and….”. Give students a moment to visualize a body of water that they have been near (it may be a water, creek, stream, ocean, even a fountain!). Encourage them to think of sensory details in this place. After the visualization, give students a chance to share what they saw with classmates. Students will describe a variety of bodies of water, sights, sounds and smells. If however, you are planning to teach about the water cycle, you might guide students through a visualization with the story of a water drop travelling through each stage of the water cycle, having students close their eyes and imagine each event as you describe it.
2.      Personal and tactile experiences. If at all possible, try to create opportunities for personal and tactile experiences that will help students make connections and build background knowledge. If you will be reading a story about flying a kite, take the students outside with kites on a windy day. If you are learning about soil and plants, bring seeds, soil and plant parts for students to touch and smell. If you’re doing a non-fiction reading about apples, bring different varieties of apples for students to sample. These types of hands-on experiences help to add information to a student’s schema of a topic or concept, and will aid in reading comprehension.
3.      What do you hear? This activity guides students in imagining and hearing the types of sounds that may be associated with a particular word, idea, or topic. For example, if you are reading a story about a little girl’s day at the beach, it would be a valuable experience to imagine and even make the sounds that students might hear at the beach. Students who have been to the beach can share their ideas, thus activating their prior knowledge and aiding the students who have not been to the beach in building new background before the story.  Together as a class, you would first brainstorm the different sounds you might hear at the beach (children laughing, the crash of waves, seagulls, the hum of boat engines, vendors selling sodas, etc). When you have a list, ask for volunteers and assign each volunteer a sound to make. Have students close their eyes and visualize a beach (or display a picture of a beach) while the volunteers make their sounds. Alternatively, the teacher could locate a CD, tape, or mp3 of related sounds and play them for students, then asking students to share the images that came to their mind when hearing the different sounds.
4.      My five senses. Introduce students to an idea or a topic related to the reading. Show a picture to provide a visual to go along with the idea. Have students complete the “my five senses” statements:
                                                                          i.      I see
                                                                        ii.      I smell…
                                                                      iii.      I touch… (or I feel…)
                                                                      iv.      I taste…
                                                                        v.      I hear…
Continuing with the example of the beach, for a story about a little girl’s day at the beach, a student’s responses may look something like this: I see sand, water, children playing, and people in bathing suits. I smell the salty smell of the water, burgers cooking on a grill and fishy seaweed. I feel the roughness of the sand, the cool wetness of the water and the warmth of the sun. I taste cold drinks and salty ocean water. I hear children laughing and mothers yelling.
5.      Acting it out. When introducing a new concept, it can be useful to have students act out the concept using key vocabulary. For example, if you are about to read a story about a rainforest, and you have introduced the key vocabulary, choose students to act out the different parts of a rainforest (trees, sun, rain, animals, ground, canopy), and ask the other students to identify the different parts. Returning to the story of the little girl at the beach, ask a group of volunteers to act out the roles of a family at the beach and things they might do. If you are reading about a restaurant, have students divide into small groups and spend a few minutes pretending to be customers and workers at a restaurant.

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