Engaging students in prior knowledge experiences becomes a form in classrooms where teachers value understanding what knowledge students possess. We know that prior knowledge is an important step in the learning process. It is a major factor in comprehension: that is, making sense of our learning experiences. Brain-based research confirms the fact that the learning environment needs to provide a setting that incorporates stability and familiarity. It should be able to satisfy the mind's enormous curiosity and hunger for discovery, challenge, and novelty. Creating an opportunity to challenge our students to call on their collective experiences (prior knowledge) is essential. Through this process we move students from memorizing information to meaningful learning and begin the journey of connecting learning events rather than remembering bits and pieces. Prior knowledge is an essential element in this quest for making meaning.

  • Engage students in meaningful activities that incorporate prior learning.
  • Use a wide variety of learning activities that reflect the students' cultural diversity and the capacity for multiple intelligences.
  • Use graphic organizers to help students activate their prior knowledge and use it to facilitate learning.
  • Use heterogenous grouping and cooperative learning to facilitate the sharing of prior knowledge and engage students in their own learning.
  • Involve community members and a variety of rich resource bases that reflect varied cultural expressions to help develop instructional tasks and to suggest authentic assessment measures by which to gauge student achievement.

Activating prior knowledge

One of the most important variables with learning is a student's prior knowledge. By tapping into what students already know, teachers help with the learning process. This is because learning is relating the new information, or concepts, to what we already know. Activating prior knowledge is like preparing the soil before sowing the seeds of knowledge says Jim Cummins.
Strategies to activate prior knowledge include:
Other useful websites on activating prior knowledge:


MUCH: superordinate concepts; definitions; analogies; linking.
SOME: examples; attributes; defining characteristics.
LITTLE: associations; morphemes; sound alikes; firsthand experiences.
Teachers should remember to
(1) Present information which builds:
*Background ideas
(2) Show, don't tell through--
(3) Use outside resources, trips and speakers
(4) Tell about topic from your experience
(5) Use any combination of the above!