Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Importance of Background Knowledge

A few days ago, I received a gift in the mail. Upon opening it, I had no idea what it was. It was a small glass dish. After considering a variety of options, I gave up, filled it with bobby pins, and put it in my powder room.

A few days later, a guest in my home asked "Why do you have bobby pins in a bottle coaster?"


Apparently the gift was a bottle coaster. As my favorite beverage is filtered Brita water, I had never heard of such a thing. My guest politely showed me how the object was intended to be used.

After a good laugh about the whole situation, I realized that knowledge gaps can lead to some strange behavior.

Think about students who enter your classroom without the background knowledge to be successful. They might make strange choices or even make inferences that seem "odd." This is likely because they can't put the events in context.

So, sometimes, poor readers are students who haven't had the experiences to understand the stories underlying the words.

As teachers, the most important thing we can do is provide context and background students for teachers before reading. Tell stories, develop ideas, show LOTS of pictures.

Let's keep as many "bottle coasters" out of the powder room as we can this year!


  1. This is funny but true! I think the teachers I remember the most are the ones who told stories that dealt with their experiences or others experiences but then would tie that story into the lesson or assignment we were going to work on. That also goes along with what you said about showing LOTS of pictures. One of the things I like to tell our teachers, even at the high school level is to incorporate pictures, audio and video into their lessons as much as possible; doesnt have to be every day, but some where in the lesson. Great post!

  2. Thanks Paula. Great point about storytelling. I think great teachers are great storytellers.

  3. Context is key, always. This a great story to demonstrate that. How do we expect students to grasp the importance of things if we don't contextualize them.

    I love your point about background knowledge, every year my little middle school takes in a handful of new students (most of our kids have been with us since K or 1st grade) and I keep having to remind myself that they don't get magically equipped with all the knowledge the others have soaked up over the years about how our school works.

  4. Great comments. New schools require lots of new knowledge!

  5. Wonderful blog! I found it while searching on Yahoo News. Do you have any tips on how to get listed in Yahoo News? I’ve been trying for a while but I never seem to get there! Many thanks.sbo



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