Big Ideas in Literacy
Developing Background Knowledge
As with all classroom lessons, students are more likely to be successful if they have developed prior knowledge of the topics at hand. However, in studying history and social studies, it is not reasonable to expect students to have prior knowledge of the expanse of all human history or the human experience. Therefore, in order to support students, teachers need to help them make connections to prior knowledge and to develop new knowledge to support the investigations.
As noted before, one of the reasons for using investigations in history and social studies classrooms is to teach content in an engaging manner. Even though teachers might ask students questions for which they already know the (consensus) answer(s), they do not want to give away the whole story before students have a chance to investigate it for themselves. Therefore, developing background knowledge with students sets up the investigation. But this does not simply mean giving students background of a historical time period or going over an event in excruciating detail. Background knowledge here includes all the information critical for helping students make sense of texts, consider an author in light of the essential question, and situate the texts within historical context. It is a matter of providing just enough information for students to dig in and learn more from the texts.
Reflect: How have you developed students’ background knowledge during your own instruction? How do you determine what prior knowledge is relevant?