This topic has been addressed before in this blog, but now I would like to share my own personal strategies in this area. They are easy to implement and work at any grade level with most subject areas.
Though all students benefit from this, ELLs probably benefit the most. Tying new knowledge to past learning experiences makes content more accessible, and, with content more comprehensible, language skills develop further. Typically, activities here need only last for 5-7 minutes. The feedback the teacher receives tells her/him if any changes might be called for in the delivery of the lesson. For example, if the feedback received shows that 90% already have a handle on the upcoming concepts, the teacher can speed up a bit and move on to more challenging aspects of the lesson. On the other hand, if more than 50% of the class seems confused, the teacher proceeds on to addressing the gaps in knowledge before moving into the lesson. Time spent here in the first few minutes of class leads to students reaping the full benefits of the lesson.
Now, here are some of my favorites in activating prior knowledge.
1. Concept webs--I have a huge sheet of butcher paper with the term or concept written in the center. It is written within a circle. Students then share any and all items they believe are connected to the concept. I write down everything (this way I validate all attempts). When we are done (no more than 3 minutes), we start to make connections. From the connections, come some eliminations (I guide this part). The results stay on the chart which is taped to the wall to go back to after we have completed the lesson. Now students will know more and revise the chart as needed.
2. Anticipation Guides--Here the teacher generates 10-20 extreme statements on the upcoming topic. Students can only choose YES or NO for each statement. For example, for TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, one statement might be "Juries always reach just decisions." Another one might be "Girls are smarter than boys." Each statement should almost be guaranteed to be extreme enough that even the quietest students will want to take a position one way or the other. Students do not share their responses initially. They hold on to them until later when they are almost done with the book. At that time, they revisit their original responses and discuss them within small groups. Many want to change positions by that time since they have more information on the novel than they had at the start. How does this help the ELLs? They now have a far more thorough knowledge of the theme and will be in better position to take a test, write an essay, do a project, etc. on the book.
3. Elbow partner brainstorming is also fun. Using this approach, the ELL can ask for help as s/he tries to share her/his understanding of the topic. Once the partner share is complete, the teacher can do some random calls on pairs to share out what they came up with. Here there is no right or wrong. Upon completion of the lessons, the pairs will revisit what they wrote about earlier and revise where necessary.
What I have just shared are my all-time favorites. What I plan on trying out this year in my university class is TWITTER. I will throw up the topic/question and have students tweet their reactions. Since TWITTER is limited to 140 characters, stress levels should be low:) Further with a class twitter account, I will be able to easily review tweets to see who might have experienced some difficulty with my lesson or assignment.
ACTIVATING PRIOR KNOWLEDGE Here, EDUTOPIA goes over the basics of APK (Activating Prior Knowledge). It is an integral part of the learning process and can't be stressed enough. Time spent here is time well spent! :)
ELL TEACHER PROS
Boardwalk Butcher Paper, 15 x 900', White (Google Affiliate Ad)
Crayola Original Markers - Broad Line, Classic Colors, 10 ct. (Google Affiliate Ad)