3 Ways To Build Background Knowledge With Newsela
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3 Ways To Bring Background Knowledge to the Foreground With Newsela

Whitney Noel
Sep 13, 2023

Nobody puts background knowledge in the corner.

If you don’t get the reference, chances are you don’t have background knowledge on a classic 1980s movie scene where an aspiring dancer finally gets her chance to shine. So when we start belting, “[background knowledge] is the one thing, we can’t get enough of…” you’ll likely be confused. You won’t know we’re referencing the iconic anthem from Dirty Dancing

A frustrating and alienating experience, right? Makes you want to tune out and not even finish reading this blog post? Imagine feeling that every day in the classroom. 

Much like the movie’s main character, it’s time for background knowledge to step into the spotlight. Why?

In addition to phonics, language comprehension is critically important to reading success. And as evidenced in Donna Recht and Lauren Leslie’s famous baseball study, background knowledge is a crucial component of language comprehension and the star of the show. It’s what ultimately deepens a student’s reading ability and makes reading skills stick. 

Without it, students can’t understand their lessons and they get frustrated and tune out.  

But the reality is, building background knowledge requires time and quality resources. Classroom minutes and prep time are already too precious to spare and finding the right content from vetted, quality sources is time-consuming.

There’s an easier, more reliable way for teachers and students to get what they need. 

Build background knowledge before, during, and after lessons with thousands of authentic, differentiated texts and videos from Newsela ELA. Here are three ways to do it:

1. Identify students’ prior knowledge with built-in tools that gauge what students know and scaffold content to help bridge the knowledge gaps.

Not every student is starting from the same place in a lesson. One might have extensive knowledge of Greek mythology, while another might be lost when they see “Icarus” or “Apollo” in a text. Teachers need to know how much context students already have. Asking the class is a quick and easy way to understand students’ prior knowledge on a topic. From there, teachers can build in additional information to help students better understand the lesson.

Newsela is more than just 15,000 pieces of content that help build background knowledge. Built-in tools, like polls, paired with each text help teachers gauge students’ current understanding. Annotations, leveled texts, and other scaffolding tools support differentiated instruction for every learner. When  students don’t have the required background knowledge to understand a lesson, teachers can provide that content in a way that meets them where they are.

2. Build background knowledge with curated content organized to support what you’re already teaching.

Teachers spend an average of 7 to 12 hours per week searching for and creating instructional resources. When they can’t find what they need with the educational materials they already have, teachers may turn to using unvetted sources that aren’t always appropriate for their students’ grade levels. 

What would a better reality look like? A library of vetted, accessible content, organized around the standards, topics, and units they teach.

Curriculum resources don’t always provide the context students need to understand the lesson. Newsela’s Curriculum Complements help teachers bridge these gaps in their existing curricula. They pair authentic, accessible content with the curriculum materials teachers already use. 

For example, a teacher building a lesson around Amplify ELA’s 6th-Grade unit on the Greeks can choose Newsela texts that build students’ knowledge of core concepts. And they can incorporate content more relevant to students’ lives, like an article on a real-life example of the hero’s journey

The Novel and Book Studies Collection offers curated text sets and practical guides to enhance instruction for 450+ of the most commonly taught books. Each text set includes current event connections, background reading, and thematic connections that pair with each novel. 

So, next time teachers are getting ready to teach “Of Mice and Men,” they can pull in Newsela content to help their students contextualize John Steinbeck’s novel within the Great Depression era and understand the American Dream.

3. Extend knowledge by connecting student interests to lessons.

Nothing ignites a lesson more than student interest. But sometimes, a topic can fall flat in the classroom if students don’t feel connected to it. 

Highlighting how a lesson is relevant to something students already know and care about brings learning to life. Boost engagement with Newsela ELA by encouraging student investigation and exploring the many ways a lesson connects to their lives. And do it all while educating them on key concepts related to their interests.

Finding student-interest content is easy with Newsela’s vast library of relevant, authentic texts and videos. 

Say you’re preparing to teach J. D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye” and plan to explore the idea of an unreliable narrator. Have students conduct a research project on a relevant topic—like the impact of social media and its unreliable narrators—and extend their knowledge with resources from Newsela’s text set that draw connections to current day. 

They’ll delve into questions connected to their own experiences while narrowing in on a research topic. Then they can use more Newsela texts and resources to build more background knowledge, gather and synthesize information, and present their research. 

All Newsela ELA content includes standards-aligned multiple-choice quizzes, so students can practice literacy skills while they're activating, building, and extending their knowledge.

Teachers deserve resources that help students tap into their curiosity and understand the content they’re reading. Newsela ELA gives teachers the tools they need to differentiate engaging materials and contextualize lessons with background knowledge so students can ultimately deepen their literacy skills. 

Now we’ve had the time of our lives supporting reading growth (and we owe it all to educators leading the charge).

Want more information?

Learn more about how Newsela ELA helps you drive meaningful literacy outcomes with content-rich instruction. 

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