Content Literacy 101

Prior Knowledge (from A Handbook of Content Literacy Strategies)

Recent educational theory has focused on the concept that knowledge is constructed in schemas, or organized systems of information. The brain creates schemas by forming pathways between new information and prior knowledge, and then organizes the connections to create a cohesive body of information. 

Why use it?
Activating students' prior knowledge is one of the most effective ways to help them learn new concepts. It also increases piques students' curiosity by asking how new information connects to what they already know .

How do I use it?
The most commonly used method to activate prior knowledge is the use of the KWL Chart: 
K- What do I already Know?
W- What do I Want to know?
L- What did I Learn?

This simple strategy can be used for a wide variety of contexts. Take any topic/theme, and ask students what they already know. Many teachers create a chart on a large piece of paper and involve the whole class in a group discussion. Other teachers break students into small groups, have each group create their own chart, and then discuss the groups' results as a class. 

After the common knowledge base is established, you can move into discovering what students are curious about. Again, you can discuss these questions as a whole class or in small groups. Ideally, these responses will guide your instruction in the related unit.

Finally, after the lesson or unit is completed, the KWL chart becomes an informal assessment tool. Ask students to record 3-5 things they learned, and then ask them to share their insights in small groups, which can then be shared with the entire class. 

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