Develop Background Knowledge
Many intermediate grade novels are set in a time and/or a place that may be unfamiliar to students. For example, a story may take place on a Navajo reservation (Annie and the Old One), in Europe during World War II (Number the Stars), in the 1950s before the Civil Rights movement (The Gold Cadillac, Leon's Story), or during the Great Depression in America (Bud, Not Buddy; Out of the Dust).
In this activity, you will identify the background information your students need to understand a novel they will read. Think about a favorite book that you teach with a setting that requires more background knowledge in order to understand and identify with the characters and story events. Then plan a two- to three-day lesson in which students will use the Internet to gather information about the setting of the story. Use these steps in designing your lesson:
- Consider the important concepts or characteristics that define the setting and will enhance students' understanding when they read.
- Develop an overarching question that will guide students in their learning about this information.
- Identify specific vocabulary words in the story that could be used as key words during the search.
- Search the Internet to discover Web sites that will be useful to your students.
- Develop several additional questions related to the major question to clarify the search.
- Prepare a worksheet for students to complete as they search the Internet and gain new information.
- Plan a specific time for students to share what they have learned with the whole class or in small groups.
A sample lesson plan follows.
Using the Internet to Build Background Before Reading
Lesson to Prepare for Bud, Not Buddy
By Christopher Paul Curtis
Setting: 1930s Depression Era in the Mid-west
- Important concepts: poverty, homelessness, food lines, soup kitchens, jazz, blues
- Overarching question: How did the hardships of the Great Depression affect people's lives?
- Key words for searching the Internet: Great Depression, drifters, Hoovervilles, railroads in the 1930s, Flint, Michigan
- Possible Web sites: http://www.history.com/topics/great-depression
- Additional questions:
- What was the role of the railroads during the Great Depression?
- How did the U.S. government help people during the Great Depression?
- How did the music of the Great Depression reflect the times?
- Sample student worksheet:
Question Web Site What I Learned New Questions
- Sharing ideas: whole class or small groups; record new information on charts to be used during reading of book
After you have taught this lesson, consider the following questions:
- Did the Internet search help students to understand the important concepts related to the setting of the story?
- How did you support your struggling readers in using the Internet to answer the questions?
- What was most difficult for your students in searching Web sites related to your questions?
- What might you do differently the next time you use the Internet to prepare students for reading?
Next > Reflect on Your Learning