Building background knowledge. Preparatory sets. Why can they be important for literacy success?

Preparatory Set

Building background knowledge prior to reading a text is achieved using preparatory sets.

Preparatory sets are used to trigger a student's background knowledge about a particular topic.

Students with language difficulty often have considerable difficulty understanding a particular text passage because of deficits in their vocabulary and semantic knowledge.

Preparatory sets are useful because they tend to focus a student's attention on particular themes or words within a text.

This added focus creates an expectation of the text passages probable meaning, before they begin to read the passage.

What follows below is an example of a text passage read to a 10 year old student.

Example of a target text passage

'The storm tossed the tiny boat on the seas as if it were a matchstick. The sun shone for a moment, but its warming rays were quickly engulfed by the angry and bruised sky.'

Preparatory sets help the student to maintain focus on the topic of the passage. In the above example the topic is 'storm at sea.'

The clincian would discuss the possible consequences of being caught in a storm at sea.

The clincian would also point to key words in the text and perhaps explain their meaning.

So for instance, a clinician reads part of the passage and points to unusual words and comments on them.

Example: 'The boat sounds like it's in trouble. The waves sound as if they are very big, because the boat is described as a matchstick, which is a tiny piece of wood.'

The clinician can also link a new sentence or paragraph to a previous stated idea to demonstrate how sentences progress in a logical and predictable way.

Example: 'We know that the sky was angry and bruised, which is what the sky may look like in a storm at sea'

Preparatory sets can target a word, sentence, paragraph or indeed an entire page.

Semantic Map

A tool that is often used in conjunction with a preparatory set is a semantic map. Semantic maps are used to brainstorm as much information about a word or topic as possible. They are a highly useful tool in building background knowledge.

A semantic map could be used to target any number of words in the target passage and explore their meaning. Some words that could be targeted: storm, clouds, matchstick, boat, ocean, etc.

Return from Building Background Knowledge to Shared Book Reading

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