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The other vital factor in a child’s ability to understand his reading comprehension passages is background knowledge. Referring back to our diagram, you can see that it is at ground level: foundational stuff!
Simply put, background knowledge is knowledge of the world around you and how it works. It goes deeper than a store of words and definitions. A child’s background knowledge is his database of information made up of personal experience and acquired understanding of how this world works.
How background knowledge contributes to reading comprehension
It gives the child the ability to link what he is reading, to his own experiences in the world. This creates meaning and appreciation for the text, because through these links, the child is able to relate to the text. (In the world of reading comprehension, this is sometimes called to as a “text-to-self” connection.)
Boosting background knowledge
Background knowledge is like reptiles. It keeps growing every day with every experience throughout the day. (Hehe, did you know that reptiles never stop growing? If your average house lizard lives long enough, it could pass for a dinosaur!) By the way, as a case in point, you have just added to your store of background knowledge. Now you know why you find lizards as fat as your thumb around and far longer than you care to acknowledge… in your house! Children will continue to add to their small stores of knowledge as they grow.
Because of the subjective nature of background knowledge, you will find vast differences between individual children. The richness and depth of their background knowledge depends on many factors, including their environments, opportunities and even individual interests. As a teacher or parent, there is a lot you can do to help expand that knowledge.
The simplest and most effective way: take time to talk and explain. Children ask endless questions and most don’t know when to stop. (Especially kindergarteners! ;)) Unless you see the opportunity and take advantage of it to teach him, you’re likely to get irritated. (I know! I do too!) But just remember, if they don’t ask, how would they learn?
Another tip that has really helped me: discuss the topic of a comprehension passage with the child before asking him to read it. If the passage is about mollusks, talk about what mollusks are, examples of mollusks, how they function, and so on. And do that before he reads the passage. Also allow him to ask any questions he may have, and take time to answer them… enthusiastically! Then when it comes time to read it, he will have had enough background in it to interest him and to help him understand better.
All the best as you keep working with your student or child! Don’t give up; reading comprehension grows slowly, but with the right approach, it will grow surely.
Feel free to share your successes and approaches too.
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