Today I’ll demonstrate how to use a picture book to teach the comprehension skill of activating prior knowledge.
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This Reading Mama and I are sharing a collaborative blog series all about teaching reading strategies with picture books. Whether you’re doing a whole class read aloud, a small group guided reading lesson, or a reading conference one-on-one, you can use picture books to improve comprehension.
Last week, Becky talked about how to teach students to set a purpose for reading. Today I’m sharing how to help learners activate prior knowledge.
What does it mean to active prior knowledge?
Prior knowledge is everything our learners know or bring to a text. The more the more prior knowledge they have, the better they’re able to understand a text.
Think of prior knowledge as Velcro. It helps new information stick.
So how can we help our young readers activate their prior knowledge? How can we help them think about what they already know as they’re learning new information?
A recommended procedure
When teaching students to activate prior knowledge, here’s what I recommend:
1 – Invite them to preview the book. Talk about the cover, page through it, and discuss the pictures.
2 – Discuss what they already know about the topic.
3 – As they read the text, encourage them to use sticky notes to mark things they already knew with a smiley face and to mark new information with a “!”
A Sample Lesson
I chose the book American Alligators, by Steve Potts, for two reasons. First, it’s a Pebble Plus book. I absolutely love this series of nonfiction books for kids. I knew that it would be an appropriate book for my Six, an end-of-the-year kindergartner, to read with help.
The second reason I chose it is that our family recently visited the Florida Everglades and saw a lot of alligators. I knew my son would be able to pull up some prior knowledge when reading this book.
First, we read the cover and he paged through the book. He made comments about the pictures, including a particularly gross one in which an alligator is eating a large bird. (Yuck!)
After he previewed the book, I asked, “What do you already know about alligators?” In his typical quick-to-get-frustrated fashion, he shook his head. “What do you mean?” To that I asked specific questions.
“What do alligators look like?”
“They look like alligators.”
“What is on their bodies?”
“I don’t know what you mean!!“
“Bears have fur on their bodies. What do alligators have?”
“Scales.” (answered grudgingly)
“Right! So that’s one thing you know. What do alligators eat?”
“In a Who Would Win book, it said that alligators eat turtles.”
And on we went.
After we discussed what he already knew, I told him that it’s good for readers to think about what they already know as they learn new information. I demonstrated how to write a smiley face on sticky note to show that he had just read something he already knew. Then I showed him how to write a “!” to show that he had just read new information.
Right away he discovered that American alligators live only in the southeast United States. He marked the page with a “!”
On one page he found two things he already knew, and quite a few pieces of new information. 🙂
Then he designed his own symbol to show that he sort of already knew something, but also learned something new. He drew this symbol to show that he knew that alligators had scales, but he didn’t know that hard, bony plates called scutes grow on their backs.
This was his way of showing that he hadn’t known that humans hurt alligators by draining their swampland. The sad face was meant to show how this makes the alligators feel. 😉
- While I didn’t do this in the sample lesson, I do recommend modeling this procedure yourself first before asking learners to do it with you or on their own. (This would have reduced the frustration that my son experienced.)
- This activity is ideal for shared reading lessons.
- This is also a great strategy to model during guided reading. Support students as they use sticky notes to read the leveled text.
- Once students have practice using this skill as a class and in small groups, have them try it on their own with their independent reading texts. You can check their sticky notes at their next independent reading conference.
Useful Teacher Prompts
Jot down these questions so you have them handy as you teach students to activate prior knowledge:
- What did you already know about this topic before you started reading?
- As you read that page, did it remind you anything you already knew?
- What do you know about this topic now that you didn’t know before you read the text?
I hope this was helpful!
Check out the entire series by clicking on the image below.
*Stock image via iStock.