ELD Strategies

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Building Background

Activiting Prior Knowledge and Building Background

An essential aspect of both the SIOP and Project GLAD instructional models of English language development (ELD) is the activation of prior knowledge as well as the building of background knowledge in the event that students lack prior knowledge about a certain subject. Teachers can use a variety of instructional techniques to determine the extent to which students have prior knowledge about a certain topic, including a quick write about what they know about the topic as well as a KWL chart or a Project GLAD inquiry chart. Many students may come to school with little or no background knowledge on a certain topic, or they may possess inaccurate background knowledge or misconceptions about a topic of study. It is important for teachers to determine the extent to which students have prior knowledge on a certain topic so that they can design instructional activities to build requisite background if needed.
The SIOP model delineates three components of building background:
  • Determining students' prior knowledge and understanding of a topic and linking concepts to students' background experiences
  • Making explicit connections between previous learning with the learning of new concepts
  • Emphasizing and developing key academic vocabulary
According to the book Making Content Comprehensible to English Learners: The SIOP Model , academic vocabulary is defined as having three key components:
  • Content words: Content words are key content-specific vocabulary words. For example, in a unit of study about life cycles, some content words taught to students might be: life cycles, metamorphosis, larva, and other related content words.
  • Function words: Function words are vocabulary words that are associated with language functions, which signifies the ways in which we use language. We use language to inform, persuade, sequence, compare, contrast, etc. Each language function has specific vocabulary words associated with the function. For example, when teaching about the function of comparison, students might learn the following function words and phrases: both, similar, also, as well, and many additional words.
  • Morphology and word structure: Students also need to be taught about the morphology and structure of words, including prefixes, suffixes, root words, cognates and other structural aspects of words. For example, in a unit of study about life cycles, students will learn to analyze the word "metamorphosis" and will learn that "meta" means about "about", "morph" means "to change", and "osis" means "condition or process of". 
Teachers can use many of the following strategies to build background knowledge wih students who may lack background knowledge about a certain topic: 
  • Watch a video about the topic
  • Read related books, stories, and other resources about the topic
  • Use word sorts and other vocabulary games with key academic vocabulary
  • Utilize a cognitive content dictionary (a Project GLAD strategy)
  • Read a teacher-made big-book with key concepts and academic vocabulary about the topic of study (a Project GLAD strategy)
  • Preteach key vocabulary and concepts prior to reading a textbook or beginning a unit of study
  • Teach common prefixes, suffixes, root words and cognates and make associations with other words in the topic of study that have similar morphological pattern

ELD Strategies 2009