Module 5: Activating Prior Knowledge


Instruction for English learner students must be carefully designed and planned so that students are able to access the content without the language becoming a barrier. Activating prior knowledge means that teachers need to take into consideration what knowledge English learners bring to the task. Teachers should understand what students know before they plan their lessons.

There are many strategies that teachers can use to activate prior knowledge for students. We will review three of the strategies in this module.

1. Anticipation Guide- An anticipation guide is a series of teacher-generated statements about a topic that the students respond to before reading or learning about a topic. Using an anticipation guide allows teachers to identify, ahead of time, the important content around which the students will focus during the lesson.

To use an anticipation guide, teachers should choose important statements from the reading or learning to come and present those for the students to respond to. A pre-reading discussion of student responses to the statements elicits preconceived ideas that students have about the topic.

(Example: Anticipation Guide for Cendrillon)

(Example: Anticipation Guide for Finding the Titanic)  

2. Observational Charts- Observational charts help focus and motivate students as well as assess their prior knowledge.

To use observational charts, teachers prepare several stations (or charts) around the room with content driven pictures or realia. At each station, small groups of students observe the material and then respond appropriately as they rotate around the room.

(Example: Observational Chart)

3. Red Dot, Green Dot- Red dot, green dot is an activity where teachers post the content vocabulary that students will encounter prior to instruction. Students rate their knowledge of the word meanings before teaching takes place. This gives teachers an idea of which words they should focus on during instruction. Teachers can use this information as a pre-assessment before teaching and revisit the ratings after their instruction to show students how much they have learned.

(Example: Red Dot, Green Dot)

4. Word Splash- Word splash is a collection of words or concepts from a text selection or unit of study. It is most appropriately used in preparation for reading about non-fiction topics in which students have little background or prior knowledge. It is a strategy that can be used during the tapping prior knowledge portion of the lesson. It allows EL students a preview of the important vocabulary that they will encounter during the instruction. It also gives them an opportunity to connect key content vocabulary in a way that they deem meaningful.

To use word splash, teachers pre-identify important vocabulary and concept words required for the upcoming instruction and place them in random order around a page. Students then use the words to create sentences that link the words together in a meaningful way. This allows teachers to get a preview of what students already know about specific target words related to the topic.

In the following pages, you'll see video examples from two different classrooms where the teacher is activating prior knowledge in her students.