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Blog: Tuesday, April 16th, 2019

Academic Language Tip

Activate and Connect 

An integral part of acquiring a new language, or any new learning, is accessing prior knowledge and building on background knowledge. But what is the difference between prior knowledge and background knowledge? 

Prior knowledge is what students already know from their lived experiences.  They can connect new concepts and learning to experiences from their past, however this knowledge may not always be accurate.  

Background knowledge is what educators provide as information to help students make sense of new concepts. It may include a short text, informational video or tactile experience. 

Deborah Short and Jana Echevarria indicate that activating and building prior knowledge plays a major role in improving the academic literacy of all students, not just ELLs.  Additionally, providing opportunities for students to talk and share their experiences with the topic honors cultural and linguistic diversity.  

How can we integrate strategies to activate prior and background knowledge? 

The following strategies can be scaffolded by integrating the student’s home language, use of visuals, pre-teaching vocabulary and sentence starters. 

  1. K-W-L charts: Students write/share/draw what they think they know about a topic. Then they add questions regarding what they want to know (wonder).  The learn piece comes after new learning has taken place.  Students may then adjust their previous understanding.   
  2. Give an open-ended discussion question related to the topic.  Students can think, write, or discuss their thoughts and opinions based on a text or visual related to what will be taught. 
  3. Integrate multi-media such as videos that address the topic.  This can support students who may not have prior knowledge about a topic.  This shared experience is used to create background knowledge which can then be applied to new learning.