Reading Comprehension Strategy: Using Background Knowledge Look for the traces of your own life in everything you read. Catherine M. Wishart Literacy Coach Copyright © 2009. All rights reserved. “A story has as many versions as it has readers” (John Steinbeck). What is Background Knowledge? • Do you remember a particular vacation you took that was especially great? • Do you remember the last book you read that you really liked? • Do you remember a family event that everyone in the family still talks about? • Do you remember a special friend from your childhood? • Do you remember a specific movie that you really enjoyed? • All of these events, experiences, memories make up your own personal background knowledge. Activating Background Knowledge • When reading a text, make a personal connection: – – – – – That reminds me of when…. That’s how my family…. My friend used to…. I tried to do something like that when I…. I act like that character when I…. • When you make a personal connection to a text, you are making a text-to-self connection. • Text-to-self connections make the reading more real and more important for the reader. Text-to-Self Connections “A Child’s Laughter” One of a kind this cheerful sound A child’s laughter wherever it’s found From the giggling of a baby in a playpen To the laughter of a toddler again and again A child’s laughter can bring a smile To one who hasn’t done so in such a long while I know because that one was me Until my daughter’s laugh set mine free A child’s laughter can bring out the best Of most every man when he’s depressed Cause his spirit that’s fallen to soar Until at last he laughs once more Harry J. Couchon Jr. Poemhunter.com What Does the Poem Remind You Of? • Do you remember a time when a child was laughing – maybe you as a child? • Do you remember a time when someone was especially sad, but a child said or did just the right thing to change his or her mood? • Do you recall a special child-parent moment that ended up in laughter? • Answering any of these questions when thinking about the poem means you have drawn on your background knowledge to make the poem more real. • Answering any of these questions means you have made a text-to-self connection. Accessing Text-to-Text Connections • Text-to-text connections involve linking two or more different texts you have personally read. • When making a text-to-text connection, you find what is similar and familiar in these texts. • Finding the similarities makes learning and understanding easier. Background Knowledge: Text-to-Text Connections “Shopping at the Hospital” Mom and Dad were very excited – their new son had finally arrived. Like all parents, they thought Matthew was perfect. Today, 2 ½ year old Dawn would meet her new baby brother for the first time. Dawn dressed up in a fancy new dress to meet her brother. Mom, Dad, and Dawn all strolled down to the nursery to see Matthew. Dad lifted up Dawn so she could see all the babies. Mom beamed and said, “See that baby right here in front of us? That’s your new baby brother.” Dawn started to pout. She said, “But Mommy, I don’t want that one with no hair! I want that one with the pretty curly hair!” How Do the Poem and Story Connect? • Text-to-text connections: – Both the poem and the story are about laughing and happiness – Both the poem and the story are about children and how they see the world – Both the poem and the story show how adults react to children • If you had read the poem first, you could use your background knowledge about children’s laughter and its effects on adults to understand the story. This connection is a text-to-text connection. Text-to-World Connections • “Books, articles, and stories that make you think of something beyond your own life help you create text-to-world connections” (Zimmermann and Hutchins, 2003, p. 53). • Text-to-world connections are often the most difficult to make. • Text-to-world connections help you learn about the world from what you read. Practicing This Strategy • The short story, “The Puzzle,” is continued on the next slide. • Read this portion of the story carefully. You may also decide to review previous portions of the story to assure you recall the highlights of the characters and the plot. Making Connections: “The Puzzle” by Anonymous Pugh explained. “I observed that box on a tray outside a second-hand furniture shop. It struck my eye. I took it up. I examined it. I inquired of the proprietor of the shop in what the puzzle lay. He replied that that was more than he could tell me. He himself had made several attempts to open the box, and all of them had failed. I purchased it. I took it home. I have tried, and I have failed. I am aware, Tress, of how you pride yourself upon your ingenuity. I cannot doubt that, if you try, you will not fail.” While Pugh was prosing, I was examining the box. It was at least well made. It weighed certainly under two ounces. I struck it with my knuckles; it sounded hollow. There was no hinge; nothing of any kind to show that it ever had been opened, or, for the matter of that, that it ever could be opened. The more I examined the thing, the more it whetted my curiosity. That it could be opened, and in some ingenious manner, I made no doubt – but how? The box was not a new one. At a rough guess I should say that it had been a box for a good half century; there were certain signs of age about it which could not escape the practiced eye. Had it remained unopened all that time? When opened, what would be found inside? It SOUNDED hollow; probably nothing at all – who could tell? It was formed of small pieces of inlaid wood. Several woods had been used; some of them were strange to me. They were of different colors; it was pretty obvious that they must all of them been hard woods. The pieces were of various shapes – hexagonal, octagonal, triangular, square, oblong, and even circular. The process of inlaying them had been beautifully done. So nicely had the parts been joined that the lines of meeting were difficult to discover with the naked eye; they had been joined solid, so to speak. It was an excellent example of marquetry. I had been over-hasty in my deprecation; I owed as much to Pugh. What Connections Do You Make? • Reread this portion of “The Puzzle” to yourself. • Think about what kind of connections you make to parts of the story. • Complete the double-entry journal page. Choose your own quotes from the story on which to comment. • Be prepared to discuss your connections with this part of the story in class. Questions to Guide Making Background Knowledge Connections • Does anything here remind me of something that happened in my life? • What do I know now about this topic that I didn’t know before I read this article? • How are these two texts related? • How can I use my background knowledge to predict what may happen next? • Can I get a movie going that shows how my own life experiences and this story have connections? • What does this article tell me about the world? Do I agree with what the author says, or do I disagree? Why? The K-W-L Chart for Non-Fiction Reading What I Know What I Want to Know What I Learned The K-W-L Chart is a great way to access background knowledge and to track new learning. When reading about a new topic, brainstorm a list of what you already know about the topic. Then brainstorm a list of what you believe you want to learn about the topic. After reading, brainstorm a list of what you learned that has added to your background knowledge for future reading. A Simple Way to Build Background Knowledge • Spend some time in the children’s section of the library! – Important terms will be explained in simple language – Important ideas will be presented – Your background knowledge will be increased to make reading more difficult texts on the topic easier to understand “Remember only this one thing,” said Badger. “The stories people tell have a way of taking care of them. If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. That is why we put these stories in each other’s memory. This is how people care for themselves. -Crow and Weasel, Barry Lopez (Zimmermann and Hutchins, 2003, p. 62). References • Anonymous. “The Puzzle.” http://www.classicreader.com/book/1409/1/. • Couchon, Harry J. Jr. “A Child’s Laughter.” http://www.poemhunter.com/poems/laughter/. • “Critical Perspectives: Reading and Writing about Slavery.” http://www.readwritethink.org/lessons/lesson_vie w.asp?id=1060. • Zimmermann, Susan and Hutchins, Chryse. 7 Keys to Comprehension. NY: Three Rivers Press, 2003.