How to Contribute to Students Prior Knowledge in Classroom

How teachers can contribute to the students’ bank of prior knowledge.

Prior knowledge is what has been experienced or learned at an earlier time.  It is like a bank account in the brain that holds deposits of knowledge that can be drawn on at another time when prompted.  Teachers can build on that bank of knowledge to help students with future learning.

The K-W-L chart is a tool for documenting what the students know and what they learn.  Under the K (Knowledge) column is listed prior knowledge from the learning or experiences of the students; the W (What they want to know) column lists the questions to be answered; and the L (Learning that happened) column is what was learned and how the questions were answered during the lesson.

Not all students come well-equipped with prior knowledge.  They all are unique learners and have different banks of knowledge.  Exposure and experience are different for everyone on a daily basis.  Everything children do can be adding to their bank of knowledge.  All children begin their education with some prior knowledge, but not all have the same experiences that are deposited in their banks. They see things differently and their experiences are very different.  They come from varied environments with unlimited experiences. Students come with a bank of random knowledge from their experiences as they are growing up.  Children are all different and come with their own unique background, so the teacher cannot count on them all to have the same prior knowledge about the topic of the lessons planned for the class.  Using the K column on the K-W-L chart can let the students share knowledge and help the teacher know what the class knows about the subject.

Checking for prior knowledge in the introduction of a lesson can be helpful for the teacher and the students.  What is already known clues the teacher into what to cover and where to begin the lesson.  It is a helpful part of the focus to bring the class online to what they are going to learn.  The students feel more confident if they know what the instructor is presenting and can be encouraged to share what they already know from prior experiences.

Prior knowledge is needed in all subjects and lessons.  It is the students’ bank of information that can connect them from prior learning to the current lesson. Prior knowledge is needed and the teacher can be a resourceful contributor. Providing “tidbits” of knowledge can help the students add to their bank of knowledge and can be a beneficial part of every lesson plan.

Teachers add to the students’ prior knowledge with every lesson they present.  They can add extra “tidbits” of knowledge to extend the learning and contribute to the students’ bank of prior knowledge for them to access when needed.  Sharing knowledge benefits the whole class and motivates students to add to their bank.  “Tidbits” can come from the teacher, the students, the text, the illustrations and the resources the curriculum provides.  Extending lessons to learn more is nothing but beneficial for the students.  Prior knowledge can be and is limitless.  Giving the students ways to acquire prior knowledge is a very helpful study habit.  For a teacher, it may involve a few minutes of talking about something of interest pertaining to the subject, or using the text resources to pull in higher level thinking skills.   Most teachers’ editions provide for extended learning and supply the resources for the “tidbits” of learning. “Tidbits” can be fun as well as informative.  

“Bird-Walking” (getting off the subject) is a teacher’s way of adding to prior knowledge without the actual act of teaching. Students ask questions for a number of reasons.  The question may be a need to know more about a subject or to confirm their own understanding of a concept that has been referred to or presented. From my own personal experiences, the students also like to get me off the topic to kill class time.  They learned what to ask to push the right buttons.  There were times that the trip away from the lesson was good for some needed learning, both present and for future knowledge. Because of the many learning styles within the class, such diversions were beneficial for students that needed more time to internalize and process the concepts presented.  Since my philosophy was according to the adage: “The only dumb question is the one not asked”, my students knew I would take the time to address the question as positively as I could.  The diversion became a time to expose them to information that can beome prior knowledge.