Tilling the Soil of Background Knowledge

farmer   Today, it occurred to me that I probably should have provided more information about the relationship between background knowledge and reading before sharing the blog post about “match-up books”. Sorry for putting the cart before the horse. This post will elaborate on the topic of background knowledge so you understand how adequate background knowledge can set your child up for a successful reading experience.

Teachers often use the phrase, “activate background knowledge”. This simply means to think about what you already know about a topic before delving into a book or article related to the topic. Whether beginning to read fiction or non-fictional text, good readers activate their background knowledge. Typically students are taught to preview the text and think about what they already know. If their knowledge of a topic is limited, a student may have to do some research or ask some questions before they read or the text will not be accessible…that is, it won’t make sense to them.

Imagine that you decide to plant flower seeds in the middle of March. You go outside and sprinkle the seeds on the hard ground. The hard ground is not a fertile environment and these seeds are not likely to grow. On the other hand, if you wait until the ground is softer and till the soil before planting the seeds, there is a much better chance that the seeds will take root and grow.  Activating background knowledge before you read is like tilling the soil. By recalling what you know about a topic, the reading that you do is more likely to take root then if you simply jump right in and begin to read.

Now this may all sound like teacher talk to you.  Not so. You are building your child’s background knowledge every day. From the day your child was born, you have facilitated his learning and opened the door to millions of new experiences for him. These experiences are a vital part of reading readiness for young children and that doesn’t stop once a child has learned to read. So, if you have taken your child to the zoo, for a ride on a train, to an amusement park, a farm, or even the grocery story, you have built valuable background knowledge. Pat yourself on the back and keep exposing your child to new people, places and things. It’s one of the best ways you can set him up for reading success.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to remind kids to think about what they already know or engage them in a little discussion before they begin to read something new.  Once a reader is grounded in the context of a story, article or book, the challenging parts will be much more manageable.

About Rita K.

Educator and Certified Reading specialist
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