Approximate time to complete: 45 minutes 

Download the Course Companion document before starting this course. You can use the Companion to take notes on your learning, answer reflection prompts, and as an easy way to retrieve course resources.  

Learning Objectives: 

Participants will be able to: 

  • Be able to describe the role of background knowledge in reading comprehension. 
  • Examine their own practice to identify ways to better build background knowledge. 

Consider This Scenario

Connection Point

In your Course Companion, consider these questions:  

  • Can you relate to this scenario? In what ways are your challenges in literacy instruction similar or different? 

Mr. Solomon's 4th grade class is studying habitats. As part of the study, the class is learning about plants and animals that are native to Ohio. However, several of his students, including a student who is originally from El Salvador, seem to have some difficulty comprehending the texts that he provides to them. Mr. Solomon suspects that a lack of background knowledge may hinder his students' comprehension because many do not demonstrate familiarity with the plants and animals covered by the texts. However, he feels stuck when he tries to think of ways to increase students' background knowledge, especially given the limited amount of time he has to cover everything for his class. 

What is Background Knowledge? 

Background knowledge is critical to successful reading. It refers to the “concepts, experiences, information and text structures that are relevant to a text under study” (Brody, 2001). Background knowledge is specific to the situations, problems and concepts presented in targeted texts used in an academic setting. Knowledge about the subject matter of a text allows students to draw inferences, elaborate on what the text means and supports the construction of meaning.

The Critical Role of Background Knowledge with Nancy Hennessy

In this video, Nancy Hennessy discusses the role of background knowledge in text comprehension and describes an instructional framework for increasing students' background knowledge. There is a place in your Course Companion to take notes.

Knowledge Check

Click on the play button to take a brief quiz on the video. 


Read the article Building Background Knowledge from Reading Rockets. Pay special attention to the section titled "How to build background knowledge."
  • In your Course Companion, identify one or two suggestions from the article that you can incorporate into your current practice. What steps do you need to take to make these changes successfully? 

Course Reflection

Answer the following questions in your Course Companion: 

  • How would you describe background knowledge to a colleague? A parent?
    •  Consider a possible misconception that you could pre-correct in your descriptions.
  • What instructional tools or resources do you currently use for background knowledge instruction? What are some areas where you would like to grow in your resources or approaches?

To Learn More

The following resources can help you learn more about the role of background knowledge in effective reading. 


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Last Modified: 10/24/2023 10:39:29 AM