Building Background Knowledge = Deeper Reading Comprehension for Engli
Feb 12, 2011 English Language Learning (ELL) 4011 Views
If you're having a problem getting your English language learners to understand more of what they read, you'll probably need to spend more time building background knowledge.
English language learners do not have the same knowledge that their native English speaking peers do, so it is essential that you create opportunities for it. And it's not that ELL students do not have background knowledge. They just have it in another language!
How Crucial is Background Knowledge for Reading?
Background knowledge is the experience and knowledge that a student brings to classroom learning. When ELL students are just beginning to read, they need to know the words and concepts first. You'll need to work with ELLs and pre-teach this content to give them the necessary background and vocabulary. What they already know about your subject matter will indicate how well they will learn new information. Tapping into your students' knowledge will help them become more engaged with the content of your lessons.
Strategies for building background knowledge
You can build background knowledge physically, visually, and with sentence frames. Here is an excerpt from one of my tip sheets available for members of the New Teacher Resource Coaching Center which can help you build knowledge using physical and visual support.
Physical and Visual Support
Use concrete objects to introduce or reinforce a theme.
Examples: If the concept is baseball, bring in a baseball, a mitt or a bat.
If students are reading a text on tea, bring tea bags and let the students feel them and smell them up close as you read aloud from a story or reference text. It's a great way to add direct experience to the virtual experience of reading.
Use a guest speaker. For example, if your next unit includes putting out fires, invite the local fire department to talk about their current job. For ELLs needing linguistic support, you can also ask students to translate what the speaker says into their own language if this is possible.
Brainstorm around a concept. Brainstorming is a very useful way for ELL students to see what they already know about a subject, which helps raise their confidence. The great thing about brainstorming is that it appeals to learning styles as well. The stronger, more verbal students will provide answers while the quieter and passive students will be listening, yet everyone is participating!
So to help get English language learners to understand more of what they read, it's really very simple. You need to provide them with opportunities to build more background knowledge for every text and concept you introduce. You need to engage them in reading comprehension. You need to appeal to what they already know.