Thursday, July 22, 2010

Tips and Tricks Thursday: Activating Prior Knowledge

My son is a lover of all things NON fiction. Which is hard for his momma, who can still get swallowed up in a picture book with a great plot.  He loves books about animals and trucks. One of his favorite books is a non-fiction text about the rainforest. We look at the pictures and discuss the animals in great detail.
If I am planning a fiction text to share with him, I often have to work hard to captivate his interest. Because he is only 2, he doesn't have a lot of background knowledge. Many of our prior knowledge activities involve going to a farm, going to the zoo, going to a park... and then reading stories that take place in those settings. We also do fun activities BEFORE reading a book.Like this fun activity we did before reading, "Please DO feed the Bears" by  Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. In fact, most of our crafts and activities are done before we read and not as a traditional after reading extension.
As we read the book, we use prior knowledge (or schema) to build upon his knowledge while reading. For example,after we visited a farm we shared a book about farm animals. He pointed to a goat and said, "doggy." I built upon his prior knowledge by saying, "That does look like a dog. It has fur and it is small. But that animal is called a goat. It says maaa-maaaa not arf-arf."
Since we do activities or "field trips" before reading a book, what do we do AFTER we read a book? I try to find a way to make connections. After reading, we might look at pictures of our recent zoo trip. "Remember when Logan saw a a lion just like the one in the book?" Or after reading, Please DO Feed the Bears, we might revisit our fun feeding the bears activity-- except this time use our new information from the book to pretend to feed the bears all kinds of treats that were mentioned in the book.  (A good reader will make connections text to text: this book reminds me of (another book), text to self (remember when Logan saw a lion?), or text to world.
As he grows and becomes more able to draw upon his own prior knowledge, we will probably make a shift to doing activities after reading.
Activating Prior Knowledge is a strategy that all proficient readers have been shown to use. If you would like more information about reading strategies that proficient readers use, I would suggest the books Mosaic of Thought or To Understand by Ellin Oliver Keene. (I wasn't paid or compensated in any way to say that, I've just found her writing to be invaluable!) Or, you could always just come back to! I'll be featuring more reader strategies soon!
How do you get your child ready to read? I'd love to hear your comments.


  1. You are such a good Mom/Teacher! This post actually makes me feel really good because I TOTALLY do this...I just didn't know that it was called "Activating Prior Knowledge." I feel smarter now. Love it!

  2. Over the past year and a half I shared a few posts about our reading journey. It's been pretty successful so far. My daughter who is not 4 yet is reading on 4th grade level. You can find my posts here -