Building Background Knowledge (2022)

We've had our share of lively debates in the field of reading, but not on this particular topic: background knowledge. There is a virtual consensus that background knowledge is essential for reading comprehension. Put simply, the more you know about a topic, the easier it is to read a text, understand it, and retain the information. Previous studies (Alexander, Kulikowich, & Schulze,1994; Shapiro,2004) have shown that background knowledge playsan enormous role in reading comprehension (Hirsch,2003).

The contribution of background knowledge to children's comprehension became all that more clear for us in a recent three-part experiment including 4-year olds from low- and middle-SES (socioeconomic status) families (Kaefer, Neuman, & Pinkham, in press). In the first experiment, we assessed low- and middle-SES children's background knowledge about birds by creating a task with fictional characters and names: “This is a toma. A toma is a bird. Can a toma live in a nest?” and other items in a similar format. The experiment revealed stark differences in knowledge about birds between the two groups: (t(43) = 3.22,p= .002), Cohen'sd= .93. Low-SES children had significantly more limited background knowledge than their middle-class peers.

So, to tap how these differences in background knowledge might relate to comprehension in text, we created an 18-page illustrated storybook in our second experiment that featured the adventures of four types of birds (named for extinct species): the moa, faroe, cupido, and kona. The book had a total of 238 words and shared a common plot and story grammar, including the setting (i.e., a house), problem, response, and resolution. Using a receptive comprehension measure that examined children's understanding of critical story events and their ability to make causal inferences, we found once again that the low-SES children experienced greater difficulty comprehending the story than their middle-SES peers. These children demonstrated significantly poorer comprehension of the text (t(75) = 1.99,p= .050), with a moderate effect size (Cohen'sd= .46).

Consequently, in our third study, we attempted to neutralize background knowledge by introducing a storybook narrative context that would be novel to both groups. Here was our reasoning: If children's preexisting background knowledge underlies these differences in comprehension, then we would expect that there would be no differences in learning among our differing SES groups. For this study, we created an 18-page illustrated storybook similar to the one we used in our previous study—with one difference: The storybook used a novel category, wugs (a pseudo-word), and was designed around the adventures of four species of wugs. And our results sustained our hypothesis about background knowledge and comprehension. In this case, there wereno differences between groups (t(56) =.57,p= .569, Cohen'sd= .15). When we held background knowledge constant by introducing an unknown topic, there were no significant differences between SES groups in children's word learning, comprehension, or ability to make inferences. Taken together, these results suggest that differences in low-SES children's comprehension skills may be attributed, in part, to limitations in their preexisting knowledge base.

This research builds on a large body of work that has shown the effects of background knowledge and comprehension (Anderson & Nagy,1992; Anderson & Pearson,1984). For example, studies have shown that individual differences in prior knowledge affect the ability to extract explicit and implicit information from text and integrate this text-based information inreading comprehension (Kintsch,1988). Other studies (e.g., Cain, Oakhill, Barnes, & Bryant,2001) have examined multiple factors, including the relative contributions of inferential processing, domain knowledge, metacognition, and working memory to learning from text. Our results are consistent with this research (Cain & Oakhill,2011; Recht & Leslie,1988), highlighting the role of background knowledge on children's comprehension as early as preschool.

(Video) 5 Ways to Build Background (with students who might not have the background)

Why is background knowledge so important?

It makes good sense that to comprehend a story or text, readers will need a threshold of knowledge about the topic. Sometimes we call it domain-specific knowledge or topical knowledge. Without such knowledge, it becomes difficult to construct a meaningful mental model of what the text is about. Consider the following examples.

Background knowledge enables readers to choose between multiple meanings of words

For example, think about the wordoperation. If you were to read the word in a sports article about the Yankees, you might think about Derek Jeter recovering from his latest baseball injury. If you read the word in a math text, on the other hand, you'd think about a mathematical process like multiplication or division. Words have multiple purposes and meanings, and their meanings in particular instances are cued by the reader's domain knowledge.

Reading and listening require readers to make inferences from text that rely on background knowledge

Even the most immediate oral language exchanges, like “What do you say?” to a young child who just received some Halloween candy, require some level of inferencing. From infancy on, oral language comprehension requires children to actively construct meaning by supplying missing knowledge and making inferences. This, of course, becomes even more complicated when we turn to written texts, since it may require students to make inferences based on limited information in the text itself. In fact, many of our greatest writers engage readers through their writing to think beyond the text.

Understanding text depends on readers supplying enough of the unstated premises to make coherent sense of what is being read. But to do this well, readers need to have a foundation of knowledge about the topic. Otherwise, as studies have shown, they can get caught on the “seductive details” (Garner, Gillingham, & White,1989) of a text—highly interesting and entertaining information that is only tangentially related to the topic—which can distract the reader and disrupt the comprehension of text. Background knowledge, in contrast, acts as a road map for students, allowing them to stay on target despite the interesting details. This suggests that once print has been decoded into words, reading comprehension and listening comprehension requires the active construction of inferences that rely on background knowledge and are implicit in the text.

(Video) Component 2: Building Background

Literacy language requires background knowledge

Second-language learners know for certain that many metaphors, idioms, and other literary devices are based on background knowledge. For example, if we say that you “really hit the ball out of the park” after you gave a presentation to your colleagues, you would quickly understand the compliment. We know that it can't be taken literally because we know what the saying refers to. Writings are heavily dependent on metaphors and idioms. Studies (e.g., Ortony, Schallert, Reynolds, & Antos,1978) have shown that idioms are often processed just as rapidly as literal meanings, indicating that we are constantly activating background knowledge in comprehension.

Informational text requires background knowledge

Informational text tends to have a greater density of vocabulary and concepts that are directly related to students' background knowledge (Price, Bradley, & Smith,2012). And these demands placed on background knowledge only accelerate as students progress through the grade levels. Students will be required to apply previously learned concepts to increasingly complex text. They must read, discuss, and write about topics that are conceptually more difficult, and they will need to increasingly draw on intertextual linkages across subject areas. They'll be required to provide evidence from text, show deep and thorough understanding of these concepts, and think creatively about applying these concepts in new ways.

Consequently, in much of the literature in reading, we have focused on skills associated with comprehension: decoding, vocabulary development, strategy instruction, and metacognition, among many others. But what we can see from this brief summary is that we have given very little instructional time to a skill that can play an enormous role in comprehending text. We would venture to guess that students' understanding of text is unlikely to improve unless we begin to more deliberately teach background knowledge.

How to build background knowledge

The question then becomes, how do we build children's background knowledge? Core reading materials often encourage us to activate, support, build on, and tie to children's existing knowledge base. But what do we do when there is no existing knowledge base? Or when there is little to build on? If you asked us, for example, to read an elementary physics text building on our previous knowledge base of physics, you would likely see blank stares, akin to a deer in headlights.

(Video) Using realia to build background knowledge

This issue becomes even more complicated in the age of Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The CCSS place a premium on the amount of background knowledge we provide to children prior to reading a text. It's not that the standards negate background knowledge or its contribution to comprehension; rather, the authors of the publishers' guidance to the CCSS emphasize close reading, developing knowledge through text, regarding the deliberate and careful analysis of text as the gateway for developing independent readers (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers,2010).

Although at times, this clash of perspectives might seem like a catch-22, the problem is solvable. Teachers can effectively build children's background knowledge early on (Neuman & Wright, 2013). However, at the same time, we must recognize that knowledge is not just accumulating facts; rather, children need to develop knowledge networks, comprised of clusters of concepts that are coherent, generative, and supportive of future learning in a domain. Here's how we do it:

  • Begin by teaching words in categories. For example, you can try something as simple as this: “I'm going to say the following words:strawberries, bananas, papayas, pineapples. They all are a type of… (fruit).” Categories of objects begin to develop concepts, and the use of generic nouns (fruit) has been shown to be highly related to language and vocabulary development.
  • Use contrasts and comparisons. For example, you can give children puzzlers like, “Is an artichoke a type of fruit? Why is it or is it not a kind of fruit?” Puzzlers help children think outside the immediate context and consider the reasoning behind these contrasts and comparisons, which can further their understanding of categories and concepts.
  • Use analogies. An analogy is another type of comparison, but this time the comparison is made between two things that are usually thought to be different from each other. Analogies help children build knowledge because they compare something new to something we already know. For example, try something like, “bird is to feather as dog is to… (fur).” Children can use similes (comparisons using the wordslikeoras) or metaphors (comparisons without usinglikeoras) to build new knowledge.
  • Encourage topic-focused wide reading. Reading builds knowledge, but wide reading has typically been interpreted as reading about a lot of different topics, demonstrating breadth rather than depth in reading. Try this variation: Encourage children to identify an interest and read as many books as they can on one topic. What you find is that children will develop a deeper knowledge and expertise on a topic. These interests will drive children to read more.
  • Embrace multimedia. We often think that direct experiences are the most compelling ways to build knowledge. As many teachers can attest, there is nothing more thrilling than watching children engage in learning through direct experiences or seeing their delight and excitement on field trips and other activities. Although it is certainly not a replacement for real-life experiences, multimedia can often provide a wealth of information that we could only wish to experience firsthand. Further, it can introduce children to important words and concepts in a highly motivating way and build a shared knowledge base among all of your students.

Conclusion

The importance of background knowledge is especially salient in the age of Common Core. To meet the demands of these new standards, children will be expected to develop knowledge through text, both narrative and informational, within specified difficulty ranges at each grade level. Informational text, in particular, is likely to have a greater density of conceptual language and academic terms than typical storybooks or narrative texts. Consequently, these texts will place increasing demands on children's prior knowledge, further attenuating other risk factors.

Without greater efforts to enhance background knowledge, differences in children's knowledge base may further exacerbate the differences in children's vocabulary and comprehension. The imperative to foster children's background knowledge as a means for providing a firm foundation for learning, therefore, is greater than ever.

(Video) Building background knowledge

(Video) Building background knowledge

FAQs

What should I write in background knowledge? ›

Background information in your Introduction should indicate the root of the problem being studied, its scope, and the extent to which previous studies have successfully investigated the problem, noting, in particular, where gaps exist that your study attempts to address.

How do you explain background knowledge? ›

Background knowledge is a reader's understanding of the specific concepts, situations and problems associated with the words encountered in the text. Knowledge of the topic provides readers enough understanding to make meaning and build onto what they currently know.

Why is it important to activate and build background knowledge? ›

It is important for teachers to activate their students' prior knowledge so they know what students already know about a certain topic and what gaps in learning they will need to fill in order for students to be successful. It helps them to understand the reason why the students are struggling.

What is an example of background knowledge? ›

What is an example of background knowledge? Background knowledge is information that a student does not have but gains through teaching. For example, a student with prior knowledge in math may lack the language ability to express that knowledge if they move to a new school and are learning a new language.

How does activating and building background knowledge help students? ›

Background knowledge helps students make connections with new information and helps them understand concepts. When teachers make connections between the lesson and their ELL

ELL
English-Language Learner (often abbreviated as ELL) is a term used in some English-speaking countries such as the US and Canada to describe a person who is learning the English language and has a native language that is not English.
https://en.wikipedia.org › wiki › English-language_learner
students' backgrounds, they validate their culture and experiences and may facilitate greater interest in the lesson.

Why is it important to increase background knowledge and stay informed? ›

Anything that increases a reader's background knowledge may also enhance reading performance. Studies have shown that providing background information on a topic before reading is likely to enhance reading comprehension, especially inferential comprehension or reading between the lines.

How can your background knowledge be helpful to you as we study research? ›

It generally supports the question, what did we know about this topic before I did this study? Sufficient background information helps your reader determine if you have a basic understanding of the research problem being investigated and promotes confidence in the overall quality of your analysis and findings.

How do you write a background sample? ›

You can include specific details such as:
  1. The names of prior employers.
  2. The dates of your employment.
  3. Previous job titles you held.
  4. Your duties and their impacts.
  5. Relevant education or training, including certifications.
  6. Accomplishments such as promotions, awards or other recognitions.

Why do we need background knowledge? ›

Background knowledge also helps students draw inferences, which develops critical thinking skills and makes reading more enjoyable. When they can grasp the material and link it back to their own experiences or existing knowledge, they're more likely to build a lifelong reading habit.

What is background knowledge called? ›

cognition (noun)

background knowledge.

How do you build prior knowledge in the classroom? ›

Strategies include pointing to upcoming lessons, providing lesson or lecture roadmaps, inviting reflective writing, and active learning activities like concept maps or case studies. Hampshire College provides a helpful list of other activities for engaging student prior knowledge.

How does background knowledge aid in effective listening? ›

If the learners have prior knowledge, prior understanding of the subject (i.e., content schema in this case), their prior knowledge will trigger different schema to help them predict the text content so as to make reasonable guesses about the meaning of the listening texts.

When we use background knowledge to make sense of what we are listening to we are performing the? ›

Top down listening happens when we use background knowledge to make sense of what we are listening to. We already know a fair amount about the topic, and the story or information we are getting fits into a previously established schema.

Why is background knowledge important for English learners? ›

Having the right background knowledge is critical to ensuring that students understand a lesson. This knowledge provides a foundation on which the rest of the lesson can be built. For ELLs, it can make a significant difference in their comprehension of the lesson and any related materials or texts.

Why is background knowledge of one's culture important in communication? ›

Answer: By being culturally aware, we can recognize and have an appreciation for other's values, customs, and beliefs and meet them without judgment or prejudice. When we are culturally aware we can know what is considered inappropriate or offensive to others. Incorrect body language often leads to misunderstandings.

What is background knowledge about the topic in research? ›

Background knowledge and prior knowledge can be defined as previous knowledge about a topic, while schema is thought of as a structure that is used for understanding (An, 2013) that interrelates all the reader's knowledge about a particular topic (Richgels, 1982).

What is background information? ›

Background information typically describes the history of the topic or the cause of the problem the topic addresses. It can also establish the topic's importance or show how to solve a problem. Background information is usually three to five sentences and comes after the writer gets the reader's attention.

Why is it important that teachers understand the background of students in the classroom? ›

Being able to gauge our students' background knowledge can help teachers create lessons that are culturally relevant. Being able to use this knowledge to help foster a classroom where students are motivated and engaged with the material is paramount to creating an environment where students can learn effectively.

Why New learning should be built on students existing learning? ›

Not only does building on prior content knowledge improve students' conceptual understanding and retention, but it can also foster a positive attitude towards new math challenges by building students' confidence in their knowledge foundation from the previous study.

What is activating background knowledge? ›

© Shutterstock/rawpixel. © Shutterstock/rawpixel. Activating prior knowledge means both eliciting from students what they already know and building initial knowledge that they need in order to access upcoming content.

Why is prior knowledge important in reading comprehension in the content areas? ›

If prior knowledge facilitates word reading, then more resources could be allocated to comprehension processes rather than to word identification, thus facilitating comprehension.

Why is it important to check for understanding? ›

Checking for understanding is an important step in the teaching and learning process. The background knowledge that students bring into the classroom influences how they understand the material you share and the lessons or learning opportunities you provide.

What is background of reading skill? ›

Reading skill is one of four language skills in English beside listening, speaking, and writing. Reading ability is needed by the students for facing both local and national tests of English tested in written form, so that teaching reading should be learned earlier since Kindergarten until the higher education level.

How can I improve my knowledge and skills at work? ›

Here are 11 ways to keep your job skills and knowledge up-to-date.
  1. Take Professional Development Courses. ...
  2. Use Online Resources. ...
  3. Attend Professional Events. ...
  4. Network Online. ...
  5. Continue Your Education or Get a Certification. ...
  6. Learn new technology. ...
  7. Learn from Others. ...
  8. Read White Papers and Case Studies.

Why knowledge is important for success? ›

Knowledge allows us to think about issues, topics and challenges from many perspectives. Wisdom (the application of knowledge) allows us to succeed by putting what we know into action.

What are the characteristics of a good background of the study? ›

The background section should discuss your findings in a chronological manner to accentuate the progress in the field and the missing points that need to be addressed. The background should be written as a summary of your interpretation of previous research and what your study proposes to accomplish.

How do you answer professional background? ›

Your professional background includes previous jobs you've had, successful projects you've worked on, significant accomplishments like promotions or awards, professional networking organizations you belong to, and anything else you'd share with someone who wants to know more about you professionally.

What is background summary? ›

A professional background summary is usually a brief paragraph or five to seven bullets at the top of your resume that sum up your qualifications for a job opening. However, this section is much more than just a list of all the jobs you've had.

What do you say in a professional background? ›

How to Write a Professional Background to Stand Out
  1. State Your Work Experiences. ...
  2. Mention Key Accomplishments. ...
  3. Emphasize Your Biggest Strengths. ...
  4. Make it Relevant to the Hiring Manager. ...
  5. Keep It Short and Concise. ...
  6. Consider Your Unique Selling Points.
6 Apr 2022

Why is knowledge important in teaching? ›

When teachers use their knowledge to enhance student learning, they are engaging in effective practice. Not only are they advancing students' understandings, they are also, ultimately, adding value to the wider community of individuals.

What's another way to say background information? ›

What is another word for background information?
contextbackground
connectionbackdrop
circumstancesconditions
frameworkstate of affairs

What is another way to say prior knowledge? ›

What is another word for prior knowledge?
contemplationanticipation
foresightpreconception
premeditationawareness
forethoughtprediction
premonitionprescience
60 more rows

What is another word for work background? ›

What is another word for background work?
preparationarrangements
readyingrehearsal
researchgearing up
preparatory measuresbuild-up
necessary stepspreparatory work
21 more rows

What does prior knowledge mean? ›

Prior knowledge is defined as all the knowledge one has before learning about a particular topic.

What are qualities of a good listener? ›

12 Traits of an Effective Listener
  • Listens without distractions.
  • Keeps eyes on the speaker to communicate interest.
  • Concentrates on what's being said.
  • Doesn't pre-judge the message(s)
  • Avoids interrupting.
  • Interjects only to enhance understanding using “what” and “how” questions.
  • Summarizes for clarity.
25 Jun 2019

Which factors can contribute to effective listening? ›

10 tips for active listening
  • Face the speaker and have eye contact. ...
  • “Listen” to non-verbal cues too. ...
  • Don't interrupt. ...
  • Listen without judging, or jumping to conclusions. ...
  • Don't start planning what to say next. ...
  • Don't impose your opinions or solutions. ...
  • Stay focused. ...
  • Ask questions.

How do you assess background knowledge? ›

There are several different methods to assess pre-existing knowledge and skills in students. Some are direct measures, such as tests, concept maps, portfolios, auditions, etc, and others are more indirect, such as self-reports, inventory of prior courses and experiences, etc.

Why is activating prior knowledge important? ›

Students' comprehension of new information can be improved by activating their prior knowledge, a process that helps students make connections between new information and information they already know.

What does the background information provide the readers? ›

Background information provides the reader with the essential context needed to understand the research problem. Depending on the topic being studied, forms of contextualization may include: Cultural -- the issue placed within the learned behavior of specific groups of people.

How does background knowledge affect learning? ›

Background knowledge plays a strong role in reading comprehension as well as content learning; when individuals have knowledge about a particular topic, they are better able to recall and elaborate on the topic.

How do you develop background knowledge of a topic? ›

The most important way teachers can build background knowledge is to explicitly teach key academic vocabulary. Give students multiple opportunities to use and practice the vocabulary so that the words are internalized and permanently connected to the topic of study.

What is the importance of having background knowledge about different types of academic writing? ›

When a student already has the background knowledge to support a full understanding of the presented text, their level of comprehension expands. These students are able to easily analyze and interpret, explain their perspective, infer and summarize the text simply because they feel more confident in the subject matter.

How do you build prior knowledge in the classroom? ›

Strategies include pointing to upcoming lessons, providing lesson or lecture roadmaps, inviting reflective writing, and active learning activities like concept maps or case studies. Hampshire College provides a helpful list of other activities for engaging student prior knowledge.

What is background knowledge about the topic in research? ›

Background knowledge and prior knowledge can be defined as previous knowledge about a topic, while schema is thought of as a structure that is used for understanding (An, 2013) that interrelates all the reader's knowledge about a particular topic (Richgels, 1982).

How does background knowledge contribute to comprehension? ›

Background knowledge also helps students draw inferences, which develops critical thinking skills and makes reading more enjoyable. When they can grasp the material and link it back to their own experiences or existing knowledge, they're more likely to build a lifelong reading habit.

How does background knowledge aid in effective listening? ›

If the learners have prior knowledge, prior understanding of the subject (i.e., content schema in this case), their prior knowledge will trigger different schema to help them predict the text content so as to make reasonable guesses about the meaning of the listening texts.

What it means to build on prior knowledge? ›

Building on students' prior knowledge is rooted in constructivism, which posits that learners have to actively construct their own knowledge rather than passively receive it. This means learners make meaning of new concepts only when they “integrate them into their existing structures of knowledge,” or schemas.

Why is prior knowledge important in learning? ›

Assessing students' prior knowledge allows an instructor to focus and adapt their teaching plan. For students, it helps them to construct connections between old and new knowledge.

Why is it important to increase background knowledge and stay informed? ›

Anything that increases a reader's background knowledge may also enhance reading performance. Studies have shown that providing background information on a topic before reading is likely to enhance reading comprehension, especially inferential comprehension or reading between the lines.

What is background knowledge called? ›

cognition (noun)

background knowledge.

What are the characteristics of a good background of the study? ›

The background section should discuss your findings in a chronological manner to accentuate the progress in the field and the missing points that need to be addressed. The background should be written as a summary of your interpretation of previous research and what your study proposes to accomplish.

What is background of reading skill? ›

Reading skill is one of four language skills in English beside listening, speaking, and writing. Reading ability is needed by the students for facing both local and national tests of English tested in written form, so that teaching reading should be learned earlier since Kindergarten until the higher education level.

Why is background knowledge of one's culture important in communication? ›

Answer: By being culturally aware, we can recognize and have an appreciation for other's values, customs, and beliefs and meet them without judgment or prejudice. When we are culturally aware we can know what is considered inappropriate or offensive to others. Incorrect body language often leads to misunderstandings.

Why is it important to check for understanding? ›

Checking for understanding is an important step in the teaching and learning process. The background knowledge that students bring into the classroom influences how they understand the material you share and the lessons or learning opportunities you provide.

What are qualities of a good listener? ›

12 Traits of an Effective Listener
  • Listens without distractions.
  • Keeps eyes on the speaker to communicate interest.
  • Concentrates on what's being said.
  • Doesn't pre-judge the message(s)
  • Avoids interrupting.
  • Interjects only to enhance understanding using “what” and “how” questions.
  • Summarizes for clarity.
25 Jun 2019

Which factors can contribute to effective listening? ›

10 tips for active listening
  • Face the speaker and have eye contact. ...
  • “Listen” to non-verbal cues too. ...
  • Don't interrupt. ...
  • Listen without judging, or jumping to conclusions. ...
  • Don't start planning what to say next. ...
  • Don't impose your opinions or solutions. ...
  • Stay focused. ...
  • Ask questions.

Videos

1. Weather Mind Maps: Building Background Knowledge and Vocabulary (Virtual Tour)
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2. Background Knowledge
(WarnerJordanEducation)
3. Building ELLs' background knowledge about the 50 states in a Social Studies lesson
(Colorin Colorado)
4. Building Background Knowledge
(CLIU C&I Ed. Tech)
5. Build Background Knowledge
(HMH ElA & Humnities Pilots)
6. Using realia to build background knowledge
(Reading Rockets)

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