Literacy PK-3

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Literacy PK-3 > Factors > Background Knowledge

Background Knowledge

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How Background Knowledge connects to...

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 increasingly complex texts.

Main Ideas

Understanding a text can be difficult without basic Background Knowledge in the topic for several reasons:

  • Reading often requires students to make inferences. Without appropriate Background Knowledge, this may be impossible.
  • Vocabulary is an important component of Background Knowledge, and it can be difficult to understand a text that has Vocabulary students do not understand.
  • Many words have multiple meanings and can be ambiguous if the reader does not have the sufficient Background Knowledge to choose the correct meaning (e.g., "bank" could refer to a financial institution or to the edge of a river).
  • Background Knowledge allows readers to understand figurative language (e.g. metaphors, idioms).

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 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.

Emergent writers are developing their understanding of the writing process and typically need explicit instruction to support Foundational Writing Skills. This Background Knowledge is important as writing skills develop more slowly than reading skills.

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