Building Knowledge and Accessing Prior Knowledge

Tell me about it

Knowledge and comprehension share a mutually supportive relationship. When readers have a stronger base of content knowledge, they are able to understand more complex texts. As readers are able to better comprehend, they are able to build more content knowledge.Considerations for instructional planningAsk yourself and/or students:

  • What does the author think you already know?
  • What has the author intentionally left out?
  • Is there any historical or cultural knowledge needed?


Be sure to's

Let the text tell - don't give away information the text can explain!

Tools and Resources

  • Brainstorming: Before beginning a unit of study or an informational text, brainstorm about a related topic.  Ask students what questions they have about the topic.  Good questions often come from students who have more knowledge of the topic. This will also support the knowledge of other students. Collect these ideas and return to them when the unit or text is finished.
  • Effective Pre-Reading: Effective strategies address words, concepts, ideas, and events students cannot learn or understand from careful reading of the text.
  • Rearrange Book Bins: While studying a topic or reading informational texts, set up book bins based on complexity levels and topics.  Weaker students should begin with lower complexity levels, but after reading some of these books should move to higher complexity levels.  The lower, complex texts act as "apprentice" texts to the more complex texts.
  • Stair-step or Apprentice Texts: An "apprentice" text is a text, often less complex, that provides the information students need to comprehend the more complex text. As with pre-reading (see below), it should not provide information students can learn from careful reading of the more complex text.
  • How to Find Texts Online: A webinar with Meredith Liben on how to find texts online at different Lexile levels.
  • Newsela:  This site holds hundreds of informational texts. Newsela allows you to choose different Lexile levels for the same passage. This allows you to use a text for a whole class, or different levels for different groups. Text sets are available on the site, and are best suited for grades 5 and up.
  • Read Aloud Project: This collection of over 100 K-2 read-aloud lessons incorporates the principles and methods of close reading with quality children's literature.
  • Reading A-Z: A site that has hundreds of informational texts at different complexity levels (low cost subscriptions required).
  • Readworks: A site that has thousands of informational texts with varying Lexile levels, questions and activities. These can be used as they are or made into text sets.
  • Text Set Project: This collection of 40+ text sets were made by teachers around the country working with Student Achievement Partners. They are designed to grow knowledge and vocabulary, and many topics are aligned with state social studies and science standards, including NGSS. 

Research: