Developing Background Information to Improve Reading Comprehension

Reading comprehension is a very complex task. The background knowledge and vocabulary students have relating to what they are reading makes a huge difference in how they understand a text.

I have no clue what I just read!

As adults, we have all experienced this. Even with college degrees and as an avid reader, there are some topics I struggle with. While an automobile repair manual might be easy for a teen to understand, it is not something I can easily comprehend because I do not have sufficient background information to understand the material. Without background knowledge, even skilled readers have difficulty understanding a reading.

As teachers, we have probably all had the experience when we’ve been talking about something and assume the students know what we are talking about–only to find they are on a totally different wavelength.

You mean immigration is legal?

In a class I had what I thought was a really good lesson on immigration. A question from a student made me realize there was a misconception that immigration was illegal. It was a misunderstanding several of the students had. Much of what I had been talking about was not understood because of misconceptions of my students.

One good way to help determine what students know is to use prediction/anticipation guide guides. These are basically a list of statements and students mark them as true/false or agree/disagree. Classroom discussion following the activity can provide additional information for students and allow teachers an opportunity to address any misconceptions. As an added benefit, these build curiosity and interest in the topic.

A KWL chart provides another way for teachers to assess prior knowledge. The KWL chart (What you know, what you want to know and what you have learned) provides a framework which can be used in a variety of subjects.

Click here for a free PDF of the above chart.

Good teachers know they need to fill in the background knowledge of their students to be sure they understand what they are reading. Discussion, concept maps, visual models, video, field trips (real or virtual), and activating prior knowledge are all important to help our readers.

In my work with struggling readers, I found many of my students were missing basic information about many topics. I began to write a calendar event based on each day in history for every day of the year. These were designed to provide daily discussion and develop essential background information my students were sorely lacking.

You can download a free calendar featuring an event in history for each month of the school year from my TPT store. (Just click on the links in the list below).










Reading Specialty has a resource for each of these days in history. If you would like a ready-made resource to help your students learn about any of these days, check out my TPT store. Individual day resources are $3.00 each while they are available at significant discounts in the bundles. Bundles are available by the month or by the semester.