Reading Recipe: Background Knowledge

Background Knowledge

Once upon a time there was an author who was baking up a reading story. The next ingredient was background knowledge. Now, this particular author wasn’t sure exactly what background knowledge was so she looked it up in her ingredient catalog. And this is what she found.

Background Knowledge

Before reading with understanding occurs, there needs to be a scaffolding of knowledge to build upon. Jeffrey Wilhelm PH.D. (2004) explains that background knowledge is necessary for students to be successful in reading. Wilhelm (2004) describes background knowledge as something that new meanings are built upon. Future learnings of more complex concepts are dependent on the foundations of the original background knowledge. Wilhelm (2004) goes on to explain that by building a foundation students are able to have their curiosity triggered by the reading. When their curiosity is triggered they connect to knowledge they already have and that builds up the information that will be needed to comprehend the text. Wilhelm (2004) stresses, “The most important time to teach reading is before kids read a text that presents them with a new challenge” (p. 76).

Each student carries their own scaffolding of experiences and expectations from their quality world. William Glasser (2006) explains that a quality world is a perception of what is important to an individual. Quality worlds are made up experiences and culture of an individual’s background. When text is read by an individual the information passes through several “filters” of relevancy. If the text that the student is reading has no connection to any of the filters in place, the information does not pass through and is reflected. A connection is not made and the student will not comprehend the text. If there is background knowledge or experience the information is allowed to pass through and become part of the scaffolding. The student will be able to comprehend the text.

Background knowledge is important for students as well as teachers. Teachers need to know the background knowledge and print experiences students possess. Elizabeth Birr Moje, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan, was asked why identity mattered. Elizabeth responded, “My immediate response is that identity matters because it, whatever it is, shapes or is an aspect of how humans make sense of the world and their experiences in it, including their experiences with texts” (McCarthey, 2002). When designing reading instruction it is vital to know the students’ identity, quality world, and print scaffolding. By using the background knowledge of students, teachers can begin to tailor instruction that can build upon that foundation.

Glasser, W. (1998). Choice theory: A new psychology of personal freedom. New York, NY:HarperCollins Publishers.

McCarthey, S., Moje, E. (2002). Identity matters. Reading Research Quarterly. 37(2). 228-238.

Wilhelm, J. (2004). Reading is seeing: Learning to visualize scenes, characters, ideas, and text worlds to improve comprehension and reflective reading. New York, NY: Scholastic Inc.

So now our author knows what background knowledge means and she added a cup to the receipe.


Mrs. Berry

6 Million Dollar Reading Make over: Recipe for Reading

Parts of Reading


Gentlemen and ladies, we can rewrite it. We have the technology. We have the capability to write the world’s finest recipe for reading. Mrs. Berry will be that writer. Better than before. Better, longer, more in-depth.

Ok, it might not be the finest recipe; however, this is what I have discovered over the last three months. I started this series earlier in the semester and received feedback.  Let us just say, I needed to give it a bit more depth.  I will start to define what is reading, and then define each of the eight sections.  I am always learning, so if you have any feedback, please let me know.

Reading is a complex process that involves many different parts. These parts are: print concepts, background knowledge, vocabulary, phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, comprehension, and motivation. Print concepts are knowing the front of book, that print not pictures tell a story, what are letters and words, where first letters in a word are found, upper and lower case letters, and some punctuation marks (Clay 1998). Background knowledge is something in which new meaning are built upon Wilhelm (2004). Fountas and Pinnell (2006) describe vocabulary as, “Every language has a collection of words, a lexicon, that has particular meanings” (p. 21). Hall and Moats (2006) define phonemic awareness, “This term means that the child must be aware of the separate speech sounds in a word, not just be able to recognize letters” (p. 38). Phonics is a system of correspondence between grapheme-phoneme and linking the spelling of words to their pronunciations (Ehri 2001). Fountas and Pinnell (2006) describe fluent reading as, “…using smoothly integrated operations to process the meaning, language, and print” (p. 62). Comprehension is a process which starts with word identification and using background knowledge and ending with making the text make sense (Sousa, 2006, p. 187). Last in the list is motivation. Jensen (2005), discusses motivation, “Another way to think about motivation is that it consist of the willingness to be active (volition) combined with the actual behavior (meaningful participation)” (p. 102). A teacher needs to know which parts a student has or does not have mastery over through assessments. McGill-Franzen (2006) states, “To know where to start instruction you must know what the child can do. Effective teachers build on what children know” (p. 7).


Clay, M. (1989). The Reading Teacher. Research Library, 42(4), 268.

Ehri, C., Nunes, S., Stahl, S., Willows, D. (2001). Systematic phonics instruction helps students learn to read: Evidence from the national reading panel’s meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 71(3), 393-447.

Fountas, I., Pinnell, G. (2006). Teaching comprehending and fluency: Thinking, talking,and writing about reading, k-8. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Hall, S., Moats, L. (2006). Straight talk about reading: How parents can make a difference during the early years. New York, NY: The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Jenson, E. (2005). Teaching with the brain in mind: 2nd edition revised and updated. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

McGill-Franzen, A. (2006). Kindergarten literacy: Matching assessment and instruction in kindergarten. New York, NY: Scholastic Inc.

Wilhelm, J. (2004). Reading is seeing: Learning to visualize scenes, characters, ideas, and text worlds to improve comprehension and reflective reading. New York, NY: Scholastic Inc.


Mrs. Berry

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