As I was munching on goodies and enjoying the ads during the Superbowl game, I thought about growing up watching football with my family. Then I thought about how much fun it was to play rugby with my brother and his friends. As a young girl, playing rugby with a bunch of older boys was intimidating, but a ton of fun at the same time. My friends had no idea what the games was and, honestly, I didn’t really know what I was doing either. I just listened to my brother as he told me what to do and where to go. It made me wonder about how many people are familiar with American football, but unfamiliar with other sports like rugby that are popular in other parts of the world.
We encounter so many unfamiliar things all of the time and need background knowledge to navigate our world. Yet, many of our students lack the background knowledge they need to navigate their learning. How do we provide this for them?
As an EL teacher, I always struggled with balancing providing students background knowledge when there was so many other things I needed to teach (decoding, comprehension, writing organization, and so much more!). How do I tap into my students’ prior knowledge and provide them with the information they need, and still have time to teach it all? I could teach background knowledge all day, but then my students would lack other essential skills. How should one balance it all?
How important is background knowledge really
According to Robert Marzano in his book Building Background Knowledge for Academic Achievement, “What students already know about the content is one of the strongest indicators of how well they will learn new information relative to the content.” We all have experiences that make up who we are but it is the academic side of background knowledge that assists students in their learning. So, how do we provide background knowledge to our students, specifically our English Learners, concisely and efficiently?
Framework for Building ELs’ Background Knowledg
Diane Staehr Fenner and Sydney Snyder in their book Unlocking English Learners’ Potential created a framework to help educators determine how and what to teach in regards to background knowledge:
Staehr Fenner and Snyder suggest teachers ask themselves the following questions to assist them in determining what background knowledge their ELs need (183).
| 1 |
Do non-ELs have background knowledge on the topic?
ELs should have a comparable amount of knowledge of a topic as their non-EL peers. This provides equity amongst all students.
| 2 |
Does the background provide information in place of what the author is going to provide in the text?
If students are going to gather the information in an upcoming text, then don’t spoil it! It is still crucial that we provide students support and scaffolding as they access this information.
| 3 |
Is the background knowledge about big issues that will help ELs make sense of the text?
Teachers don’t have to provide students everything about a topic. Rather, provide them information that is critical to comprehending the information.
| 4 |
Is the background knowledge you’d like to provide concise?
There isn’t a need to take up an entire hour or class period on background information. Take just enough time to provide the critical information and move on.
The figure below is also a great reference to refer to when you are unsure about which background knowledge to teach. Keep it in your lesson plan book!
What are some quick strategies I can use to teach background knowledge?
The key to all of these strategies is to find out what students already know and determine what critical information to teach quickly and concisely.
Back to Rugby: an example.
I know you are still thinking about that rugby game, right? Here is a brief clip with the rugby rules along with visuals, websites and even a rally table. Maybe when spring comes around again you can try rugby. Trust me, it’s really fun!
Please reach out if you are interested in exploring more ideas for building background knowledge for your ELs.
This post brought to you by Katie Miller, K-12 EL Implementation Associate
Enjoy our Blog!
Members of the Secondary C&I team weekly post useful tools, tips, and tricks to help you help students.