Literacy Strategies for Students with Disabilities

Language Comprehension: Background Knowledge

Reading glasses sitting on a book.
An overview of the research on building background knowledge is included in this section.
  • The ability to decode text is a critical skill. However, the ability to accurately decode text does not ensure comprehension of what is read. Scarborough’s reading rope model describes the many strands of skilled reading. Background knowledge is only one strand included in language comprehension and is necessary for readers to make sense of new ideas and situations. It includes all of the knowledge acquired through life experiences and learning. The more background knowledge a child has, the more she can comprehend what is read.

    “If we do not spend large amounts of time reading aloud and discussing challenging material with children – material that is well beyond their ability to decode with understanding, we miss a critical opportunity to increase their knowledge of language and of the world – the kind of knowledge that will prove decisive for reading in later years.” (Hirsch, 2006)

    Without the necessary background knowledge, a reader cannot make sense of what is decoded. A lack of background knowledge especially affects higher order thinking such as inferencing or making connections to other content and experiences.

Teacher working with elementary children at a table.
This section includes a library of instructional strategies that help students build background knowledge.  
Finger pointing at a video play triangle icon.
Videos show how instructional strategies look in the classroom.  These videos focus on building background knowledge.
  • English I  - Comprehension Strategy Framework

    Web link for the video
    First Grade - Probable Passage
    Link to open video
    Fifth grade - Notice-Wonder Double Entry Journal
    Video demonstrating a 5th grade teacher using the notice-wonder double entry journal with 2 students.
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This section contains additional resources related to building background knowledge.

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  • Cara Wyly
    Project Manager, Progress in the General Curriculum Network
    (210) 370-5413