Activating Prior Knowledge in Reading Comprehension

Getting kids to use the smart stuff they already know to understand new things. It’s called activating prior knowledge. And in this blog post we’re going to look at practical strategies for setting purpose, previewing text features, and implementing practical pre-reading activities.

An example of activating Prior Knowledge for Reading Comprehension

One time, I was teaching my class about dinosaurs. Before we even opened our books, I asked the kids to raise their hands and tell me what they already knew about dinosaurs. Little Timmy’s hand shot way up and he shouted “Dinosaurs were huge lizard things that lived a bajillion years ago!” Lisa added “Yeah, and they had teeny tiny arms and horns on their heads!” The whole class started giggling about how silly dinosaurs looked.

After they shared all the dino facts tumbling around in their brains, I said “Great job! You already know so much about dinosaurs!” They had memories and pictures of dinosaurs in their heads before we started learning. That’s their prior knowledge!

Having that dino knowledge ready to go made it super easy for them to hook on more new facts as we read the books. The new stuff just clicked into place with what they already knew. It was like giving them a head start in a race!

Another time, we were learning about the rainforest. I asked the kids to turn and tell their buddy anything they already knew about the rainforest. I heard things like “Isn’t that where it rains a ton?” and “Aren’t there super tall trees and vines everywhere?” Sharing that rainforest background info out loud warmed up their brains to take in new info.

The best way to activate prior knowledge

The best way to activate prior knowledge is to have a quick chat before the lesson. Ask fun questions to get kids dishing out everything they can already tell you about the topic. You can do it as a whole class or let them buzz with a partner first. Sometimes I even have them draw a quick sketch to show off their smarts!

Getting kids to lay out their prior knowledge is like rolling out the welcome mat for new learning. The new stuff has cozy ideas to settle in with, instead of stumbling through confused. Give it a shot – you’ll be amazed at how much more engaged and successful your students become!

Setting Purposes for Reading

This one is all about getting our kids to set a solid purpose before they dive into those books. Hear me out…

Let me start with a hilarious story from just last week. I was introducing our new novel about a kid who gets shrunken down to the size of an ant. Before we even cracked it open, I asked the class “Okay youngsters, why do you think we need to set a purpose for reading this book?” You can probably guess the answers I got – a bunch of blank stares and crickets!

That’s when class clown Bobby raised his hand and shouted “Cuz you’re gonna zap us all with shrinky rays so we can relate to the tiny main character!” He had the whole class cracking up imagining me as a crazy scientist shrinking them all down. Once they settled down, I jumped back in.

“While that would be an epically crazy way to experience the book, setting a purpose is more about getting your brains mentally prepared. It’s like strapping on yourscuba tanks before swimming beneath the surface to explore a colorful reef!”

I carried on with some more concrete examples to really drive the point home. Like if we’re reading aboutamous explorers, your purpose could be to learn what it took for them to survive and navigate through treacherous landscapes. Or if it’s a mystery book, your purpose is to soak up every little clue to try solving the caper!

Having a clear purpose

The bottom line is, having a clear purpose mapped out gives your kiddos a mega reading power-up. It’s like being a detective with a checklist of crucial case details to be on the lookout for. Those purpose-guided kids can zoom through books like a heat-seeking missile locked onto its target!

Of course, simply telling the class “Okay, set a purpose” isn’t gonna cut it. You gotta get them actively thinking through it first. One silly trick I use is having them pair up and practice giving each other a “cliché opening movie trailer voice” to dramatically state their book’s purpose. You know, like “In a world…where cuddly baboons ruled the big city…one ape must find the strength…TO BECOME ALPHA MALE!” Total cheeseball, but it really gets them psyched!

At the end of the day, setting a purpose is gonna zap your students with the reading version of laser vision – heightening their mental focus, comprehension, and overall understanding. Just gotta have a little fun sparking that purposeful mindset first! Let’s get purposeful, teach-fam!

Previewing Text Features

Previewing text features is scoping out the book’s layout and organization before taking that first epic plunge between the pages.

Here’s a real-life example that always gets the kids’ gears turning. It’s like they’re brave explorers about to embark on a thrilling treasure hunt, but first they gotta check out the map to get their bearings. Well, previewing a book’s text features is basically unfolding that convenient little treasure map!

Headings, sub-headings, table of contents

We’re talkin’ hunting for the highlighted trail markers like eye-catching headings and subheadings that act as a table of contents for the book’s biggest ideas and pit stops. Those bolded or italicized words scattered throughout? Those are like obvious “X” marks highlighting the juiciest, most valuable vocabulary jewels to grab!

Maps, diagrams, & charts

And who could forget the handy maps, diagrams, charts and images along the way? Like a pirate’s old tattered scroll, those visuals give our book adventurers a sneak peek at the landscapes and sights they’ll be discovering as they read on. Any forgotten context or blurry pictures in their brain get freshened up nice and crisp!

Captions and labels

That’s not all though. Those tiny captions and labels underneath the visuals are actually little cheat codes packed with bonus info. Kinda like having a knowledgeable tour guide whispering all the coolest facts and secrets about the book’s locations right into your ear.

By doing a quick scan for all these text features before their big quest, it’s like our student explorers suited up with a fully updated GPS system uploaded straight into their brains. They know where they’re headed, what’s coming their way, and can just blaze that reading trail with laser focus from start to finish!

So don’t be afraid to make checking out a book’s text features a pre-reading spectacle in your classroom. Maybe you could have kids become text feature hunters, awarding prizes for the first ones to spot key headings or vocabulary terms. Or go full extras and reenact dramatic explorer scenes of them prepping and studying their book’s treasure maps! Any silly tricks to transform this crucial first recon step into an enthralling mini-adventure of its own. Your young reading mavens will be schoopin’ up knowledge and comprehension like there’s no tomorrow!

Strategies for Implementing Pre-Reading Activities

It all starts with laying down a killer hook right out the gate. Maybe you project an eye-catching, mind-bending image on the board loosely tied to the reading topic. Or better yet, open with a juicy brain teaser question guaranteed to get those curious cogs spinning. Bam! You’ve got a classroom full of engaged students practically salivating to crack open the book and start finding answers.

Brain-bin session

From there, it’s go-time for tapping into those sublime stashes of prior knowledge lurking in their lil’ noggins. Get them warming up by having a rapidfire brain-bin session where they start spewing out everything and anything they can already relate to the reading subject. You’ll be floored by the random gems and hilarious personal stories that sometimes erupt! Guaranteed laughter while intellectually priming their brains for upcoming learnings.

Reading quests and objectives

And don’t stop there! Make sure to lay out the reading game plan load and clear. Explain the exact reading quests and objectives they’ll be embarking on, hyping them up on why this book is a must-read literary treasure trove. If it’s a historical fiction novel, maybe give them a rundown of the time period’s cultural backdrop first. Heading into a sci-fi saga? Do a quick refresher on real celestial phenomenons to amplify the extraterrestrial experiences ahead.

Visual aids

Visual aids are another pre-reading power move that’ll fully immerse your class and tap into those focus frenzy mindsets. Got a geographic expedition novel coming up? Plop down a giant topographical map and go full Steve Zissou narrating the exotic lands they’ll soon be traversing. If it’s a play or film re-reading, festoon the classroom with captivating movie posters and promotional images for maximum engagement.

Graphic organizers

Just when they think they’ve reached peak excitement levels, sock it to them with pre-reading activities like KWL charts and anticipation roads. These handy graphic organizers get kids’ brains systemizing and slotting in their pre-reading perspectives in a tangible way. One of my personal faves is having students jot bold story predictions in the margins of the book cover or opening pages. Holy smokes, does it ramp up the thrill and buy-in as they furiously read onward later to see how accurate they were!

The possibilities are endless when it comes to getting your class’s minds turbo-heated and hungry for those next book quests. So don’t hold back, my passionate educators! Crank up those pre-reading routines and make them a full-fledged spectacle of fun, curiosity-stoking awesomeness. Those kiddos will be diving into every new reading adventure with the ferocity of great white sharks drunk on book lust!