Reading Strategy: Activate Prior Knowledge

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SWBAT write down what they know about a particular subject to activate their prior knowledge.

Big Idea

To become a good reader we have to remind students that reading is thinking. Before we read a book or a chapter we have to think about what we already know. Many times activating what we know can be easy, and they need to practice activating it.


2 minutes

Students love to learn big words and a word we have used since the first day of school is schema. I now want to anchor the word schema with information that is already stored in our memories. I ask them to explain how a filing cabinet works and how our school secretary might use it. What are the steps she takes to get at a file.

I then explain that this system of retrieving a file is very similar to how our brain gets at information. In order to help our brain learn we need to take our new learning and attach it to things we already know or have felt. The fastest way to remember is through feelings, but sometimes we have to use what we already know.

It is then fun to tell them that we can help our brain best, by activating before we read or while we read. The strategy of today's lesson is geared to help them practice activating their schema or prior knowledge.

Pops in Your Head Warm Up:

2 minutes

To practice we play a game. I say a word and they have to tell me with description what pops into their head. So I start with something that might be easy like "red car." Student will then add to it what they know about a read car. I had responses from "those are the fancy ones that go fast," and "in a garage." This quick response lets me point out that we all have different thoughts and memories associated with things. I prove is by next asking them about a dog. Most tell you a story about theirs, or have one about a puppy. Then I tell them a story about a little girl who get bit by a dog and had to have stitches. I ask them what her prior knowledge might be which includes her feelings.

We talk about things that we have prior knowledge for, because of our parents, of places we have visited, and events that have happened to us. This is a good way to show that our prior knowledge is linked to a lot of different things.

The next thing we practice is how when we feel something really excited, surprised, embarrassed, or even scared we tend to remember the event or thing better. This because when we have emotions tied to our learning the brain remembers it even better. I might ask them to tell me about what they might tell a kindergartner on their first day of school. The reason they can be so helpful is that their first day of school held lots of feelings for them so they remember at least one of them very well.

To get ready for our read aloud I ask them to use their white boards and activate their prior knowledge by writing down everything they know about a farm. For my students who have trouble with writing I ask them to create pictures to represent what they know.

Reading Aloud to Show Thinking:

10 minutes


Reading aloud is a fun way to show students how good readers use strategies. For this lesson I choose the book Farm by Elisha Cooper. This book is great because it gives the reader hints that this farm is a newer working farm.

Before I read I tell them that I am going to activate my prior knowledge before I ever begin. If I were reading a chapter book I would remind myself of what I had already read and add to it what I know from my own experience. To show them I am going to model with a shorter book but use the exact same strategy I would use with any other book. For this book I tell them that I am going to activate my prior knowledge by looking at the title and cover. This book is called "Farm" and has a rooster on top of a house. My think aloud begins with me telling them a few things I already know about a farm. I then draw their attention to the rooster and say that I have seen pictures of roosters on top of the house making noise, but I really don't know if that is true because I do not have prior knowledge of seeing it or learning about that.

Through the book I model how I use my prior knowledge to better understand how the farm works.  When I am about half way through the book, I shockingly exclaim that I have just realized something. That when I use my prior knowledge it helps me also check for understanding because it makes that understanding easier for me.

 Farm by Elisha Cooper

Sticky Note Practice:

10 minutes

Once I have modeled and we have talked about what they saw me do. I tell them it is now their turn to practice.

To practice using their prior knowledge I give them all about three sticky notes so that they can keep notes of their thinking. As they read, I am asking them to write down anything that connects to something they already know.

For example if they are reading Charlotte's Web, they need to then write down things that they already know maybe about pigs, or spiders. I also give them the example that in the Farm story I could have written down how the author talked about a growing corn and that I had seen real cornfields this summer and the same equipment on the farms I saw.

The first sticky note they should write needs to be how they are activating what they already know before they read. I also remind them that these are their thoughts and I might just ask them to explain them to me as I walk around.


Next Day, Jog My Memory:

2 minutes

The next day as a follow up, I have students take out their white board to practice. I tell them that I am going to give them 2 minutes to activate their prior knowledge. I explain that as practice and for fun, I am going to say one word. Once I say the word, they need to write all they know about that word onto the white board. The previous lesson was on a farm so that is the word I use. I say the word "Farm" and say go. We then discuss our boards and talk about how it helps to think about our subject before we read.