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We all bring our own Background Knowledge, that is, what we know and have experienced, to what we read and write. This knowledge includes their everyday cultural experiences and interactions within personal communities. Helping students build and apply their Background Knowledge can ensure they have and use the information they need to understand and compose increasingly complex texts.
In the upper elementary grades, students transition into a stage where they are able to learn Background Knowledge through the process of reading and writing.
Understanding a text can be difficult without basic Background Knowledge in the topic for several reasons:
The reliance on Background Knowledge grows as students progress through school, and they are required to build upon prior Background Knowledge to acquire new Background Knowledge. Specifically, the comprehension of informational texts requires students to have and apply more Background Knowledge relative to storybook texts, as informational texts typically use more complex academic or discipline-specific Vocabulary and require students to apply information from prior lessons.
However, Background Knowledge goes beyond Vocabulary learning because Background Knowledge refers to a deeper understanding of a topic. For example, a child who has never been to the beach before may know the relevant Vocabulary (e.g., waves, seaweed, sand) but may not immediately understand metaphors used in a story in the same way as a child who has experience going to the beach. Students also have everyday practices and life experiences, or funds of knowledge, that come from their participation in different cultures and communities.
Teachers support language development by using and providing Vocabulary that is appropriately leveled (e.g., using word wall words).
Advance graphic organizers link prior knowledge to upcoming learning to help students anticipate and understand the structure of new information.
Audiobooks allow students to hear fluent reading and to experience books above their reading skills.
Students practice making and finding meaning in their reading through a book club model.
Building positive and trusting relationships with learners allows them to feel safe; a sense of belonging; and that their academic, cognitive, and social and emotional needs are supported.
Daily review strengthens previous learning and can lead to fluent recall.
Dictionaries and thesauruses can serve as resources for students to expand their Vocabulary knowledge.
When teachers provide explicit instruction in comprehension strategies and model when to use them, students learn how to flexibly apply them to make meaning of texts.
Seeing and using new words repeatedly and in many contexts is critical for Vocabulary acquisition.
Research shows that, along with traditional reading comprehension strategies, students use unique strategies to read the non-linear, hyperlinked structure of online texts.
Visiting places connected to classroom learning provides opportunities to deepen understanding through firsthand experiences.
Adding gestures and motions to complement learning activates more cognitive processes for recall and understanding.
Visualizing how ideas fit together helps students construct meaning and strengthens their recall.
In guided inquiry, teachers help students use their own language for constructing knowledge by active listening and questioning.
Spending time with new content helps move concepts and ideas into Long-term Memory.
Learning about students' cultures and connecting them to instructional practices helps all students feel like valued members of the community, which improves Motivation.
Independent reading promotes literacy by emphasizing student choice with teacher support in selecting books, as well as by making time for free reading.
Practicing until achieving several error-free attempts is critical for retention.
By talking through their thinking at each step of a process, teachers can model what learning looks like.
Instruction in multiple formats allows students to activate different cognitive skills to understand and remember the steps they are to take in their literacy work.
Helping students think about what they know about the topic of upcoming work helps activate their Background Knowledge or reveals gaps.
Reading aloud regularly exposes students to new and familiar Vocabulary and texts.
Reading aloud books about skills children are learning provides another model for their development.
Through one-on-one conferences, teachers can provide individual support to each student to deepen comprehension and interest in reading.
Students build their confidence, strategy use, and comprehension by reading and rereading books.
Books for vision differences support reading development for learners with visual needs.
Reading materials of varying complexity and levels are necessary for all students to experience success.
Multicultural and diverse books are critical for supporting all students.
Providing varied types of resources that align with interests of individual students supports overall literacy development.
With figurative language and creative sentence structure, poetry supports the development of a deeper understanding of the different ways language makes meaning.
Books on social and emotional learning (SEL) topics, such as developing empathy and productive persistence, help teach these skills.
When students monitor their comprehension, performance, and use of strategies when reading and writing, they build their Metacognition.
Providing a story map ahead of time or having students create a map during or after reading helps learners understand and expand their Genre Knowledge.
Transforming written text into audio supports learning by activating different parts of a learner's brain for comprehension.
Providing visuals to introduce, support, or review instruction activates more cognitive processes to support learning.
Web-based dictionaries and thesauruses can serve as visual and audio resources for students to expand their Vocabulary knowledge.
A word wall helps build Vocabulary for reading fluidity.
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