Accessing Prior Knowledge Activities

Are You Tapping into Prior Knowledge Often Enough in Your Classroom?

Studies have shown that prior knowledge is the most important factor in determining how much students learn in comparison to the materials that are taught to them. Take that into consideration. We teachers put in a lot of time and effort to collect materials, which are important and required for effective teaching, but I wonder if we take advantage of the most powerful tools that are right at our fingertips nearly enough. All those young brains, geared up and ready to go!

We have all been guilty of rushing through the instruction of some idea or ability, and not taking the time to pause, ask the students what they already know about the topic, and make vital connections to what is still to come. I’d like to present some research that explains why we need to eliminate that, as well as some activities that can assist us.

The Research Behind It

Jean Piaget, a Swiss psychologist, was of the opinion that educating children was one of the most important responsibilities of society. And after a great deal of research, he came to the conclusion that children, just like adults, integrate prior knowledge with experience. Learners use their own schemata to make sense of the experiences they have had (and the learning they have done). And then there was John Dewey, who was a child-centered educator in addition to being a philosopher and a psychologist. He is widely regarded as one of the earliest educational reformers. Dewey believed that the development of a child’s abilities and interests should take precedence over the requirements of a curriculum. In addition, both of these early education researchers had an impact on the growth of the constructivist movement.

PK Strategies: Make the Most of It or Lose It!
One of the fundamentals of effective teaching is making use of the students’ existing knowledge as a springboard for new learning in the classroom. Asking students to share their own experiences, hunches, and ideas about the content or concept being studied and relating it to their own lives should be done at the beginning of a lesson — and throughout a unit of study. I mentioned this in an earlier post about scaffolding techniques, where I also wrote that this should be done.

You can stimulate those young minds and tap into their prior knowledge by engaging in the following activities:

Use It or Lose It — PK Strategies

Consider the following: Place an image on the interactive whiteboard or LCD projector, and then question your pupils about as much information as they can recall concerning the photograph. Choose illustrations that not only make sense to the students but also enable you to make a connection to the new material and/or ideas that they will be studying. When we started talking about the tone and mood of a particular poem or short story, I would frequently start by showing the class a picture of a famous piece of artwork.
The K, W, and L Chart Yes, it has been tried and tested, but I feel the need to point out that it is not applicable to all topics and that it can be an overused activity for evaluating prior knowledge. Utilize in moderation and dynamically.
Books with Pictures They are extremely effective regardless of one’s age. Find a children’s book that is connected to the topic or the skill you are about to teach in some way and that your students may already be familiar with if you are going to teach it to them. Simply reading it out loud will cause the bells to start ringing.
ABC Method of Brainstorming This is my favourite version. Students should begin by creating a box for each letter of the alphabet on a single sheet of paper. Next, they should brainstorm a word or phrase that begins with each letter (this activity can be done in pairs).
Web-based Brainstorming for the Class Fun in the classroom that’s open to everyone. I prefer to refer to it as. After writing a word or phrase in the centre of a circle (either on a whiteboard or a piece of poster paper), instruct the students to write as many connected words as they can around the perimeter of the circle. For instance, you could write “photosynthesis” in the middle, and then have the children write around it words and phrases such as “plants, green, sun, water, and light.” When I’m participating in this activity, I like to set a timer so that I feel a sense of urgency (which adds to the fun). Maintain the web’s visibility throughout the upcoming lessons and make reference to it as you conduct an in-depth investigation of photosynthesis. You can even ask the students to contribute new words and facts to the web.
We run the risk of falling prey to what the late Brazilian educational theorist Paulo Freire referred to as “the banking concept” in pedagogy if we don’t ignite the prior knowledge of our students when we teach. This is the practise of treating students as if they are empty vessels waiting to be filled with the knowledge of the teacher. In essence, adopting the viewpoint that the students in the classroom have very little to contribute to the learning and discussions taking place there.

We can thank our lucky stars that we don’t actually believe this ridiculous notion.

We are also aware that when we use the students’ existing schemas to genuinely shape and guide the learning process, we may end up going down some unexpected roads, which may result in an overall change to the lesson plans and learning outcomes. And that is perfectly fine.

We would appreciate it if you could explain the methods and exercises you use to get your students to activate the prior knowledge they already possess.