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The Impact of Prior Knowledge on Reading Comprehension

In the classroom, when trying to engage students for the best results in learning new material, it is important to take some basic steps to guarantee student success. In terms of reading, specifically reading comprehension and long-term retention, it is especially important to activate prior knowledge.

Prior knowledge is the knowledge a student brings with him or her to the classroom: information that has already been learned and added into a student's long-term memory. Educators cannot assume that all students "come to the table" with the same background knowledge. If this is done, some students will be left behind as learning for other students moves forward.

With this in mind, sometimes classroom teachers need to take a step backward to assure that all students start from the same place, with necessary prior knowledge in place. This is called "activating prior knowledge." Doing this guarantees a higher level of success for all students. There are a variety of ways to do so, each of which will benefit all students. There are also some devices readily available for teachers in all content areas that help students to read and learn new information, and import it into long term memory?information on which to build future lessons, thereby expanding a student's cache of knowledge.

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Solution Preview

Prior knowledge is information that a student already has learned, so it is somewhere in the child's long-term memory. Because it has been learned before, other new and related information can be "piggy-backed" onto that older information.

Sometimes the teacher will need to teach a concept over and over to make sure it becomes part of the long-term memory (this is the development of prior knowledge), so that a higher level concept can be taught. Sometimes that prior knowledge is already in place.

One of the problems with teaching a new concept is that some educators assume that each student has the necessary prior knowledge. This is, of course, a mistake that is easy to make. If the student has been with YOU for an extended period of time, it is more likely he/she will have the required prior knowledge as you may have taught it yourself. However, it is also important to check and make sure that the student did not somehow get through the previous lesson/s and then proceeded to forget that information.

For students that you "receive" at the start of a new school year, or who come from another district or private school, you will need to check what that student knows. For all students, a general assessment that you make up with a limited number of specifics you are looking for might be a good idea. ...

Solution Summary

This posting discusses why the activation of prior knowledge is so important when trying to boost comprehension and retention in students. Some specific examples are included.