If you’re reading this, you’ve probably experienced the buzz around the Science of Reading (SOR) and its transformative educational potential. I can understand how this shift might seem daunting initially but fear not! This 7-part blog series is designed to be your trusty guide as we delve into the world of the Science of Reading, tailored specifically for upper elementary teachers like you.
As we stand at the cusp of a new school year, it’s natural to be eager to explore new horizons in our teaching practices. The world of education is ever-evolving, and embracing change can be both refreshing and challenging. Our shared goal is simple: to equip you with small, actionable steps to help you confidently align your instruction with the Science of Reading principles and deliver even more effective lessons to your cherished students.
I’ve embarked on a journey of discovery and growth, diving deep into the Science of Reading over the past few years. While I don’t claim to be an expert, I’ve cherished every moment of learning, and I’m thrilled to share my knowledge with you through this blog series. Together, we’ll empower each other to become more informed and effective educators, positively impacting our students’ reading abilities and, consequently, their future success.
In this blog series, we’ll address the most common questions and concerns when embracing the Science of Reading. We’ll cover everything from understanding the core principles to practical application in the upper elementary classroom. We hope to make this transition smooth and enjoyable for you by breaking it down into smaller, manageable steps.
In addition to the blog post, you will find an accompanying podcast episode to listen to!
So, if your school introduces new reading programs or invests in professional development for the Science of Reading, you are in the right place! This blog series is designed with your needs in mind. Each week, we’ll unveil a new dimension of the Science of Reading, providing practical tips and insights to apply in your classrooms when school resumes this fall.
Let’s embrace this transformation and set the stage for an exceptional academic year ahead. By nurturing your passion for teaching and learning and adopting the Science of Reading principles, you’ll inspire your students and unlock their potential to achieve greater reading growth.
Get ready to embark on this enlightening journey with me. Let’s dive into the first part of our blog series:
Small Step #1: Build and activate background knowledge anytime you read aloud.
What exactly do we mean by background knowledge and prior knowledge? Well, these two terms are like the dynamic duo of comprehension.
- Prior knowledge is what our students already know about a topic – the facts, concepts, and understanding they bring to the reading experience.
- On the other hand, background knowledge is the specific vocabulary terms, facts, concepts, and information students must have to grasp the events, problems, or ideas presented in a text.
- Here’s the exciting part: sometimes, our students might already have enough prior knowledge to understand a text fully. Go, them!
But, in other cases, they might need a little boost, and that’s where we come in as the super educators! We can intentionally build their background knowledge before diving into the reading adventure.
Being mindful of building background knowledge ensures that all our students start on an equal footing, equipped with the necessary information to understand the text confidently.
Let’s discuss a framework you can use anytime you read with your students that aligns with building and activating background knowledge.
ABCS of Background Knowledge
Nancy Hennessy, author of The Comprehension Blueprint, provides a great framework for thinking about background knowledge.
- Activate & Assess Background Knowledge
- Build Background Knowledge
- Connect to Existing Background Knowledge
But what does it look like in the classroom? Let’s see!
Activate & Assess:
The first step in building background knowledge is to activate and assess. This is where you want to see what prior knowledge your students already have about the topic.
You could do this in a few ways:
- KWL Chart: Use this strategy to find out what the students already know about a topic and what they want to know about the topic.
- Provide a Statement: Use a statement from the text/on the topic, ask students if they agree or disagree, and explain why.
- Ask questions about the topic: What would it be like to live in ______ during _______? How would you feel if you were ________? Do you remember when we learned about _____?
Build Background Knowledge:
The next step in the ABCs of background knowledge is to build background knowledge. This can happen before, during, or after reading. This is where you will teach or expose your students to specific vocabulary terms, facts, concepts, and information a student must have to understand the events, problems, or ideas presented in a text.
But what does it look like in the classroom? This might look like:
- Explicitly teach vocabulary terms: use word clouds or semantic maps that help students understand the connection or relationships between keywords in the text.
- Provide pictures, images, artifacts, maps, and text features that support information in the text.
Connect to Existing Knowledge:
The final step in the ABCs of background knowledge is to connect to existing knowledge. This step is a great way to bring the ABCs full circle. While we want students to continuously connect what they are reading to prior knowledge they have, we can also be intentional about prompting them to reflect and make connections to what they are reading:
But what does it look like in the classroom? This might look like:
- Revisiting the KWL chart and filling out the “What I Learned” section.
- Using a sentence stem like “I used to think… now I think…” at the end of a lesson.
- Reading multiple texts on the same topic. Each time we read a text, we can add to our knowledge and connect what we are learning to what we already know, enhancing our understanding of a topic.
One of the cool things about building background knowledge is that it is empowering AND engaging for students.
Inside the Stellar Literacy Collective, we are constantly trying to provide teachers with resources that make it easy for teachers to transition to the Science of Reading and put strategies like these into practice!
Toward the end of the school year, one of our members shared that she was using one of our Nonfiction Science Sets on Biomes with her students to do a little extra review at the end of the year. Laura shared: “We have been doing the content unit on biomes as a shared reading, and my kids are SUPER engaged. Several kids have begun a passion project inspired by what they read. It has been a great way to see them transfer what they have learned about text structure, text features, and author’s claims.”
And I loved this comment because:
- We want students to understand key reading skills. (text structure, text features etc).
- But we also want students to develop core content knowledge (science and social studies).
- Ultimately, we want students to be engaged and inspired to continue learning on their own.
And one way to do that is to build background knowledge with your reading experiences intentionally. And when you do that, you also take one small step to align your instruction to the Science of Reading.
Think about your next Science of Reading steps…
- If you feel inspired by this post, check out Episode 137: Build & Activate Background Knowledge to better understand why background knowledge is such an important aspect to aligning your instruction to the Science of Reading.
- Download our FREE Science of Reading Teacher Reference Guide to dig into the science of reading and learn more about what it is, key concepts, terms, and models that will you understand the SOR.
- Join us inside The Stellar Literacy Collective, where you will get access to a resource library filled with reading and writing resources that you can use and feel confident that you are taking steps to align your instruction to the science of reading.