Why Activating Background Knowledge is the Most Underrated Reading Comprehension Skill Ever

Inside: Why activating background knowledge (also known as schema) is an important reading comprehension skill. This post will give you insight on how to help your students activate background knowledge by using essential questions before reading. 

activating background knowledge, schema, essential questions blog post header

Before your students dive into a text, it’s important for them to show what they know about a topic. Making connections before reading a text help students get engaged and retain what they’re reading. This is why activating background knowledge (also known as schema) is such an important reading comprehension skill. Knowing why activating background knowledge is the most underrated reading comprehension skill ever will help you focus on this strategy to allow your scholars to become better readers.

Activating background knowledge with a KWL can help with your assessment

KWL stands for “What I Know”, “What I Want to Know”, and “What I Learned”. Students start by brainstorming everything they know about a particular topic for the K. Next, they ask questions about things they want to know for the W. Finally, the L signifies things they learn after reading. The questions answered in the W column don’t always get answered in the L column, and there may be findings that students didn’t anticipate. KWL is often used in a chart or table. Students can collaborate on a KWL chart or fill it out individually. This will help students activate their schema (the map in our minds that we have about a topic, according to Teacher Vision).

Asking Essential Questions Helps Students Gain Interest

Posing an overarching question to your class can pique their interest and help activate background knowledge. You’ll not only find out what your students know, but their answers to these essential questions will help your students get excited about what they’ll be reading and make connections to their new knowledge. Asking essential questions before reading is a simple, but effective way for students to activate their schema.

Class Discussions Before Reading lead to Meaningful Learning

It doesn’t hurt to simply ask your students what they know about a topic. Asking your students what they know about nouns, states of matter, or order of operations, for example, can help jog your students’ memories and let your learners show their classmates what they know. Allowing students to build off one another’s answers also builds community and fuels class discussion.

Previewing Text Features to Activate Background Knowledge

Looking at pictures, graphs, bolded and italicized words, a glossary, index, appendix, or table of contents can help your students get a preview of what they’re going to learn and read. This is especially effective when it comes to nonfiction, informative texts that are typically more heavy with text features. Even looking at the title of a book or article, subtitles, or headings can help students recall prior learning. By pointing these out BEFORE students read, they will be much more likely to utilize the text features that will help them understand what they read.

Activating Background Knowledge is a Stepping Stone to Making Connections

Asking students to connect to what they’re learning and reading can activate prior knowledge. Since they are already thinking about the topic before they read, they are already applying the topics to what they know.

After students preview text or you ask initial questions, have your students make text-to-text, text-to-self, or text-to-world connections. Making connections to what they’ve read in prior texts will help students understand new knowledge. Personal text-to-self connections are often the most valuable. Making learning meaningful and authentic really helps knowledge in acquisition and comprehension. Students tend to recall things that relate to their own personal lives. The text-to-world connections are also ways for students to help focus outside the classroom with current events in the community, city, state, country, and world.

Activating Background Knowledge will Make Your Students More Engaged Readers

You may find yourself asking why activating background knowledge is the most underrated reading comprehension skill ever. Students who activate background knowledge (or schema) are able to make connections and retain new knowledge. By showing what they know and connecting to new learning, students will increase their comprehension. Try some of these strategies in your classroom to aid in activating background knowledge. Something as simple as asking an essential question before each time your students read will help them activate their schema and feel more connected to what they read.

SNEAK PEEK- Reading Passages with Activating Background Knowledge

I am currently working on reading passages that will help students activate their background knowledge before reading. I am so excited because there is currently nothing like this out there… and you can be the first to try it out!

For these resources, I teamed up with my sister Victoria La Rue, who is a professional writer. Our differentiated reading passages will be available for Kindergarten through 6th grades. The full sets are coming VERY soon, but they are not quite done yet. Sign up here to get the first two differentiated passages for FREE (that’s 6 leveled passages total, 3 levels for each passage). You’ll get instant access to the Free Resource Library, where you can download the grade level(s) you need. You will also be notified when the new sets arrive- and yes, there will be a SALE! 🙂

*SNEAK PEEK!!* I will be releasing some FREE reading comprehension passages soon that will make this process so much easier. Sign up for my email list HERE and you’ll be the FIRST to know when they are ready. You will also get instant access to my free resource library that already includes 24 freebies and counting!

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