Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Building Background and Vocabulary

I feel a certain sense of obligation when someone makes a suggestion and it works to pass it on. So get ready, because here's the pass. . .

Most elementary students lack the background knowledge and vocabulary to fully understand what they are reading, even fiction. (This is not surprising to anyone who works with kids.) My literacy coach watched a lesson in my class of a first read where it was so obvious kids didn't get it all. She suggested bringing nonfiction books on those topics.

This is how it worked the first time out--we were reading Grandfather's Journey by Allen Say. I went to the library the weekend before and got books on topics like: California, Japan, Japanese Immigration, Japanese Internment Camps, World War 2, and Song birds. I listed those on the board and asked students to think about how these would relate to our story as they listened. After the first reading by me, I passed out one book to each 2 or 3 students. I gave them about 10 minutes to scan and discuss how it related to the story. Each group reported out in just 1 sentence.

Then the books were in a basket in our class library, and one center was looking through the books and finding 2 interesting facts to display on post-it notes. I was very pleased by the results in background, vocabulary, and research. I plan to use this strategy frequently. Any suggestions? How do you build background knowledge?

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