Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog

How to Leverage Prior Knowledge About Homes

By Rhonda McDonald, Reading Specialist, Guest Blogger

In order for an appliance to work properly, it needs power. Similarly, when you tap into a child’s background knowledge, he or she needs a frame of reference in order to develop real world connections to classroom instruction. Keep reading to find out how to leverage your students' prior knowledge about homes. Ideas for reading and follow-up activities will enrich classroom discussions and improve critical comprehension skills.

All children come from a family, but the number of members in each student's home will vary. Some of your students may have traveled to many places with their families, and there may be others who have never gone on a vacation. Some children have large families with many relationships, and other children may live with one parent or grandparent. Cultural influences may also influence your students' understanding of a home.

Learning About Students' Families and Their Homes

Start a guided reading lesson by asking kids to draw a picture of people in their families. Ask them to write the names of their family members in the drawing. Younger children may need to dictate names. Then ask questions about the people shown in their pictures. This fun activity helps you get acquainted with each child and the world they come from.

The next day, ask children to draw a picture of where they live. Talk about how homes are different and how they are alike. Create a chart and write "Where I Live" as the heading. Use sticky notes to add each of the following types of homes to the chart depending on each child's experience: apartment, house, trailer, farm, city, town, country. Most young children have never considered how people in other parts of the world may live, so this is a great way to introduce paired texts to help access prior knowledge and make real world connections about spaces to live.

After kids tell the class where they live, read The Three Little Pigs from the Story World Real World Collection . Discuss the three types of houses from the narrative text and ask why the pigs kept moving. Then read the paired text Where Would You Like to Live? within the corresponding theme of the fairy tale. Ask the children to draw a new home where they would like to live. Later, you can have them explain why they chose their homes.

Integrating Science Component into Your Discussion of Homes

After children have tapped into their prior knowledge about homes, you can integrate a science component by asking kids to think about homes of animals. Read A House for Me , which is a level E narrative text from the Kaleidoscope Collection . After reading about a spider that tries to find a place for his web home, ask students where they think a spider would want to make a home. Talk about where they have seen spiderwebs. Follow up with an activity to let children make their own webs with paper, glue, and yarn. Have students draw their webs onto a piece of construction paper using a pencil or crayon. Then have students trace the pencil lines with glue and lay pieces of yarn on the glue. When the glue dries, each student will have their own spiderweb home.

To continue exploring more small animals and their homes, you should read A House for a Mouse , which is a nonfiction book at guided reading level G from Fables & the Real World . The nonfiction text features in this book are great tools I use to expand students' knowledge about homes for different mice. To help students develop a deeper understanding of their reading, ask them to compare and contrast homes for different mice and homes for humans. Ask them to complete this sentence: If I were a mouse, I would live . . . Don't forget to encourage students to explain their answers.

If you want to broaden the scope of studying more homes of animals that your students may recognize, the Zoozoo Animal World series is an excellent resource of informational books about animals. The leveled readers in this collection are organized by eight different habitats from around the world, and each habitat has ten animals. Every page offers vivid photographs that capture students' attention. You can also use the teacher talking points to enrich discussions of each page to improve vocabulary and comprehension. To create deeper connections and understanding, try planning a trip to the zoo or coordinating a screening of videos about different animals they have read about.

Using Prior Knowledge to Improve Vocabulary

When talking about animal homes, you can improve vocabulary by using helpful words in your questions and answers. Some examples include den , nest , cave , tree , barn , forest , etc. To try a fun activity with your students, assign each child a different animal and have them read a leveled book about their assigned animal. After they read, have students construct a home for their animal with play dough.

Once their animal homes are constructed, give each child an opportunity to talk about their animals and where their animals live. You may find it helpful to give students a sentence stem to complete if they need one: My animal is a ___. It lives in a ___. Encourage their classmates to ask and answer questions to engage everyone in a group discussion.

As you continue accessing kids' background knowledge of animal homes, there will be a natural progression to introduce more vocabulary about types of human homes. Some examples may include igloo , tent , log home , beach house , cabin , etc. You may also want to expand children's vocabulary about things in a house, which may include window , roof , ceiling , or pantry , or words for furniture and appliances, which may include chair , table , desk , or refrigerator . To engage students in a fun activity, have them use blocks to build a model of a room in their house. Make sure they include furniture so they can make labels to practice their new vocabulary words.

Learning becomes meaningful for students when you connect it to familiar frames of reference. When you talk about something that the child has experienced, the light of recognition will show in their eyes. Participation in classroom discussions will transform into a rich tapestry of combined experiences because leveraging a child’s background knowledge is one of many incredible literacy strategies.

Be sure to come back to our blog soon for more helpful teaching ideas!

Rhonda was a Title 1 Reading Specialist in Botetourt County Public Schools, Virginia. She now substitutes and visits schools and libraries to lead writing workshops, story time, and parent workshops. She is also an author of children's books and several titles in our  Kaleidoscope Collection  and Zoozoo Animal World  series. If you like what you read here, you can enjoy more by Rhonda on our blog .