According to Debbie Miller in the book Reading with Meaning, “schema” is another word for background knowledge, or what one already knows about a specific subject. One’s “schema” does not just include facts, however, it also encompasses all of one’s life experiences, places visited, and books one has read. Activating prior knowledge before reading a book is an extremely important comprehension strategy, one that we focused on for Day 16 of our 30 Days of Reading Fun for Beginning Readers.
Activating Schema using Nonfiction
I chose to focus on a nonfiction text for this activity, partly because nonfiction texts are often underrepresented in read-aloud and decodable books for beginning readers, and partly because this activity was easiest to do with a straightforward text based on facts.
The book we read was Dolphins by Sylvia M. James. Before reading, I asked my 5-year old daughter to tell me what she already knew about dolphins and I transcribed it on a piece of paper. You can do this with an individual child like I did, or you could do it in a whole group using large poster board.
Next, I took two colors of Post-It Tabs. Every time my daughter heard something read aloud that she already knew, she marked the page with a green post-it (or blue, because we ran out of green midway through reading the book). Every time she heard something new about dolphins that she didn’t already know, she put a yellow tab.
Finally, I asked her to tell me what she learned after reading the book and recorded it on a piece of paper!
This simple exercise did not take more than 5 additional minutes aside from reading the book, but such an activity is proven to greatly increases a child’s comprehension and retention of the information read over simply reading the book with no discussion.