More about building background knowledge

I teach my students how to use the Internet to build background knowledge.  When Salvador  read The Thief Lord, we looked up photographs of Venice so he could visualize the city.  We found maps so he could picture the actmetion.  We could have gone to Google Earth and gotten a birds’ eye view of the city.

When we read a book that the students “get” but really don’t have much background knowledge about–like The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, which we are still working through–I have them make quick group PowerPoints to build their background knowledge.  They love it and I hear cries of, “I found the most beautiful picture of the Metropolitan Museum of Art,” and, “Ohhhhhh, that’s what an automat is!”  Although I only mentioned putting photos and titles in their PowerPoints, the students are crafting chapter synopses as we move through the book.

I love anything that builds background knowledge, as it will affect all reading and understanding.

Photo credit:…/Metropolitan/124_2485.JPG

Building background knowledge

I teach at an international school in Guayaquil, Ecuador.  My students come in with incredibly varied levels of English and of background knowledge of the world.  I have students who’ve lived all over the world and students who have never left Ecuador and whose families do not have a culture of literacy.

I’ve found that the easiest way to help students build background knowledge is to create a short PowerPoint to show them before each classroom read-aloud.  I’ve found I can throw something together in about 15 minutes that will work, although The_Sign_of_the_Beavera well-crafted PowerPoint takes me about an hour.  Here are some examples of both extremes:

Sign of the Beaver ppt

Stone Fox ppt

Esperanza Rising ppt

Hope Was Here ppt

It’s fun to find good images and saves a lot of student confusion.  The PowerPoints also help the students visualize the story as we read it.

I know the argument that students should be free to create their own mental movies, but I always remember the student who drew a picture of me roller blading in a bathing suit when I had told a story about ice skating in layers of clothing.  She just did not have the background knowledge to visiualize the story.