Make Learning Physical and Visual by Linda Evans
One of the best ways to help your students learn a new concept is to connect it to something they already know. These various concepts that they already know are called Background Knowledge. Second language learners do have “Background Knowledge;” it’s just in a different language. Here are some strategies for Building Background knowledge with your English learners by making the lesson physical and visual.
- Use concrete objects to introduce a theme. If the subject is baseball, bring in a baseball. If you have a bat and a mitt, that’s even better.
- Borrow a concrete object to reinforce meaning. I don’t happen to own anything made with Kevlar, but our school police officer does. Just ask. I have found that people are happy to lend items that will help you teach your lesson.
- Bring a loaf of bread and brainstorm different uses and names for it. Let that discussion lead into the next unit of The Great Depression. Think of simple, everyday items that you can connect to your next unit.
- Bring a handful of pine needles and let the students break them open, smell them up close and feel the sticky sap as you read aloud from a story or reference text. Reading is a virtual experience. This is a great way to add direct experience and smells are powerful memory triggers. (Note: Paper towels and Pam will remove sap from desks and fingers.)
- Role-play the especially important scenes. Let the students improvise the lines according to the scene or theme. For example, if the story you’re reading involves the theft of a bicycle, your students could act it out in a few minutes.
- Arrange for a local field trip. Students can carry a pocket size notebook to jot down the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and ideas during the day.
- Share personal memories of field trips you took as a student. Students love to hear you tell a story. When you share your memories as you show pictures, photos, maps, or pages from the text, you’ll build experience for students too.
- Use a guest speaker. I’ve noticed that sometimes my advice falls on deaf ears. But, somehow, when my students hear it from a guest, it rings truer. So, if your next unit includes the development of the printing press, invite a local print shop owner to talk about his/her job and how the history of its creation is still being used today.
- Use picture books, even in the upper grades. They are an invaluable resource. Using this kind of visual tool is a great way to connect in a direct manner, and it’s fun!
- Print a picture from the internet. Besides finding individual pictures of items, you can use it as an alternative to physical field trips. Use pictures, music, and short videos from the internet to create a virtual field trip experience.
You have a lot of knowledge about your subject. As you think about what your students know, consider physical or visual items that could help them get on the same page with you. Also connect an item that is already familiar to them to a new way of using it. Now watch your students engage and remember more of your lesson!
And to help you generate those ideas for your next writing project you will want to access the teleseminar Proficient & Productive Use of Mindmapping Open Your Mind! which is available for immediate download and listening.