The Impact of Prior Knowledge on Reading Comprehension

In the classroom, when trying to engage students for the best results in learning new material, it is important to take some basic steps to guarantee student success. In terms of reading, specifically reading comprehension and long-term retention, it is especially important to activate prior knowledge.

Prior knowledge is the knowledge a student brings with him or her to the classroom: information that has already been learned and added into a student’s long-term memory. Educators cannot assume that all students “come to the table” with the same background knowledge. If this is done, some students will be left behind as learning for other students moves forward.

With this in mind, sometimes classroom teachers need to take a step backward to assure that all students start from the same place, with necessary prior knowledge in place. This is called “activating prior knowledge.” Doing this guarantees a higher level of success for all students. There are a variety of ways to do so, each of which will benefit all students. There are also some devices readily available for teachers in all content areas that help students to read and learn new information, and import it into long term memory?information on which to build future lessons, thereby expanding a student’s cache of knowledge.

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