Before giving the students nonfiction books to read, I show the students pictures, objects and even some videos. We discuss everything we know about the subject or person and then use a graphic organizer to group the information. The students tell how they know the information; have they read about the subject, have they been there or seen it or has someone told them about the subject? It's important to understand their connections to the subject and if their prior knowledge is correct and can be proven.
In studying biographies, I present a book about someone that all the students are familiar with. I love using famous inventors, people who are still living and Walt Disney. I try to use anyone who can spark enthusiasm.
Using background knowledge can help student students make predictions about the text and the author's purpose or central idea and help them with comprehension. When reading text, prior knowledge about the subject can also help with vocabulary.
Having prior knowledge about general text features can also help students as they read a nonfiction book or any type of informational text. When the author uses side bars, graphs, captions, etc., it grabs the reader's attention and helps in understanding the author's central idea. As students read the text, headings, subheadings, different types of print, it makes it easier to know the what the content will be about in a particular section of the book or article.
Using prior knowledge can also help with differentiation in the classroom. Extending a child's learning or focusing on student needs based on a child's learning experiences is a way teachers can differentiate on projects and essential skills.
Using a simple KWL chart during nonfiction units is a simple way of learning "What do I Know?" Students can self-examine and take ownership in their learning. Students will record what they have retained or recalled from earlier learning experiences; not, what they think they know.
I used to discourage my students from reading or doing research about subjects or people they were familiar with. I didn't realize they actually wanted to deepen their understanding about the subject and prior knowledge helped them in making the connections to absorb new information. Making connections is essential in reading informational text. Otherwise, students will find the information boring and just words on a page. Reading informational text and using their prior knowledge lays the foundation for reading and comprehending the new information and making it more meaningful.