Reading Comprehension and Factual Knowledge

Factual knowledge, also known as background knowledge, can make the difference from not having a clue what you have read to comprehending and completely understanding what you have read. You build background knowledge from life experience, research, hobbies and more. Having a wide range of interests can help your reading comprehension by drawing comparisons and relationships to ideas, facts, and concepts you already know.

When educators often think of strategies to build reading comprehension, they normally reach for activities such as:

  1. Finding the main idea
  2. Finding supporting details
  3. Making graphical representations to assist comprehension and long term memory
  4. Answering questions
  5. Generating questions
  6. Summarizing what they have read
  7. Practice using new vocabulary

There is no mention of factual or background knowledge. However, Donna R. Recht, coauthor of “Effect of Prior Knowledge on Good and Poor Readers’ Memory of Text” states: “Prior knowledge creates a scaffolding for information.” She goes on to state: “For poor readers, the scaffolding allows them to compensate for their generally inefficient recognition of important ideas.”

If you are to be able to actually succeed in any of the above 7 reading comprehension skills, you must have some background knowledge to refer to in order to filter, scaffold, make associations, make sense of, and retain information. In other words, in order to understand, you need a reference point, you need background knowledge. The more background knowledge you have, the easier it is to comprehend.

This video explains Recth’s and Leslie’s study results.

Background knowledge can help a poor reader develop into a capable one and a poor writer into a fascinating one. One way to build background knowledge is to understand the 10 basic topic categories and tailor experiences in those areas. Remember, it is quite difficult to find the “main idea” of a reading selection when you don’t really understand most of the ideas written about. 

10 Factual Knowledge Topics Everyone Should Know Something About

  1. Animals, Ecology, and Ecosystems
  2. Folk Stories, Fables, and Fairy Tales
  3. Classic Children’s Fiction
  4. Astronomy and Space
  5. Human Body, Health, and Nutrition
  6. Engineering Technology
  7. Historical Fiction
  8. U.S. History, Culture, and Civics
  9. Contemporary Realistic Fiction
  10. Immigration

The 10 knowledge domains that will give your students an advantage on PARCC/SBAC tests.

Building Factual Knowledge Activities

If you live in a city and have never been to a farm, you would have difficulty understanding a selection about harvesting crops. So, you could build your knowledge by taking a trip to a farm or watching a video about a farm harvesting it’s crops. From here, you could then draw pictures or make a graphical representation of the steps that are taken during a harvest. Make a model of or collect pictures of types of harvest equipment. Compare the types of equipment from one crop to another. The richer the activities and experiences the more the student will be building and retaining the factual/background knowledge.

As mentioned above, using videos can improve factual knowledge. The factual knowledge study reported in Enhancing Students’ Learning of Factual Knowledge concludes that a blended learning approach that utilized Internet video clips improved students’ vocabulary development and showed a significant increase in test scores. 

Listening to Podcasts Can Improve Your Factual Knowledge

We love listening to podcasts to build our factual knowledge. We love learning about new things! Podcasts can be a great way to learn about something while in the car or around the house. There are podcasts on thousands of topics and can expand your knowledge about specific topics. Some of our favorite podcasts include But Why: A Podcast for Curious Kids and Wow in the World. For older kids, take a look at Science Friday. You may have caught the show on NPR on a Friday, but check out their website. They have tons of episodes! For the high school and adults, take a listen to Radio Lab. Please note, Radio Lab has some material that may not be suitable for children.

For more great podcasts for kids, take a look at this top 25 podcasts for kids list.

Playing Games Improves Factual Knowledge

Additionally, playing vocabulary or word games improve factual knowledge by improving vocabulary. “Vocabulary knowledge could be considered a proxy for a person’s background knowledge.” The Journal of Educational Research, Volume 2, 2009. Playing games can improve a student’s memory of vocabulary which improves their factual knowledge base which then improves their comprehension skills.

Alemi (2010, 435) found that word games had a “positive effect on vocabulary development” among the students in her study. Huyen and Nga’s (2003) research found that games (1) create a relaxed environment that helps students learn and recognize words; (2) introduce friendly, competitive activities that energize students and increase active participation; and (3) improve students’ communicative competence through the review and practice of vocabulary.

Vocabulary Games: More than Just Wordplay

For direct instruction and specific activities on improving factual knowledge and vocabulary, learn more about our Reading Program. The program integrates the five principles of reading seamlessly with step-by-step activities, games, and video lessons.

Who is Scholar Within?

Scholar Within was founded by learning expert Bonnie Terry, M. Ed., BCET. Bonnie began designing and developing her own custom educational tools when she started her private learning center in the 1990s. Teachers kept asking what she was using with the kids who saw her because of the dramatic improvements that the kids made in school. From there, Bonnie decided to make her materials available to teachers and families worldwide.

Now, Bonnie Terry has turned her materials into a full-service online program that you can follow step-by-step at home, on your schedule. School alone is not enough anymore. Bonnie’s programs boost your kid’s overall learning skills by focusing on improving the auditory, visual, and tactile processing areas of your brain to make it work more efficiently.

Learn more about Scholar Within.

10 Best Practices to Improve Reading Comprehension

When you use best practices for improving reading comprehension, it is easier to understand what you have read. Are you reading aloud? Research has shown that the simple act of reading aloud can improve your reading comprehension. Whenever you use more than one sense (hearing, seeing, or doing) when you are learning, you are more likely to remember what you have read and its easier to get a more complete understanding of the topic.

Reading comprehension is the ability to understand, analyze, synthesize, and use what you have read. So what are some other best practices you can use to boost your reading comprehension so that you can understand, analyze, and use what you have read? Continue reading this post 😊.

Reading Comprehension Best Practices

Specific best practices are used to assist readers with comprehension. Readers need to spend time reading, whether it’s reading a story, essay, article, or poem. Just spend time reading! To help students better understand what they have read, have them:

1. Read aloud

Reading aloud integrates auditory learning of listening to the words and tactile-kinesthetic learning of the act of saying the words aloud which intrinsically builds reading comprehension. It is easier to remember what you have read when you have not only visually read the words but to hear them again out loud. If the reader is not as skilled, it can also help by having a more advanced reader read the passage while others follow along. An advanced reader can correctly read the passage aloud with proper intonation, expression, and attention to punctuation to help infer meaning from the text.

2. Find the main idea

Making a conscious effort to identify the main idea of a passage can help improve your reading comprehension. What or who is this passage about? Why does it matter? Being able to quickly identify the subject of a passage can help the reader get a clear picture and understanding of what the point in what they are reading.

3. Find supporting details

Identifying a couple of supporting details or information about the main idea helps you get a more complete back story of who or what the passage is about. Again this is the act of consciously thinking about a few points that you can remember about what you have just read. Think of this as the ‘elevator pitch’ if you had to share what it is that you are reading to someone else.

5. Recognize story structure and key points

Can you quickly identify the structure of the reading selection For example, does it have a beginning, middle, and end or is it all about one topic? If it is a story, what is the theme, the mood, who are the main characters, what are they doing? What is the setting, is there a conflict, who is the protagonist, and who is the antagonist? Breaking down the elements of a reading passage can help you get a more complete picture of what it is you have read and organize the various parts in an easy to understand way.

Before you read, try to do a quick preread of the selection. Is it a book? Read the back cover and the intro. Thumb through the pages of the book scanning titles and read a few sentences throughout. Doing a quick preread can help you familiarize and get an idea of what it is that you are going to read before you read it.

4. Use graphic organizers

We love using graphic organizers to improve reading comprehension! We start with note-taking graphic organizers to help you put down the main idea and details of a passage. When you identified the reading selections structure or key points, was the passage informational or a story? Choose the appropriate organizer to write down what happened at the beginning, middle, and end or use the informational organizer to write down details about what you have read. The act of writing (tactile-kinesthetic learning) helps you better remember what you have read.

How can you supercharge your note-taking? Try to take notes after you have read a selection. Doing this will help you stretch your memory skills. After filling out some rough notes, it is okay to look back at the selection to help fill in your notes. Use colored pencils to color-coordinate your notes. Draw pictures from the passage. Look for the connections between the main idea and details. After you have taken notes on what you have read, you can take it even further by using a compare-contrast organizer to compare topics or a 5-W organizer (who, what, where, when, why, and how). Scholar Within’s reading programs are loaded with graphic organizers to help you take notes and organize your thoughts more clearly.

6. Answer questions

Answering questions about what you have read can help you build your active recall skills. Research has shown that actively answering a prompt is more effective in learning subject matter than just passively reading or listening. Try to find passages that have questions already made along with critical thinking questions that make the reader think a little bit harder about the text. Set up a regular practice of answering the questions a day or two days after you have read the passage. Doing this will help you build those long term memory skills.

7. Generate questions

Generating questions is a great way to stretch yourself as a reader. What can you ask that you could answer from reading the selection? Are you reading in groups? Try to have each person generate different questions and have the others answer them. This is a great way to get a more complete understanding of what you have read when each person comes up with different questions.

8. Summarize what you have read

Put the reading selection into your own words and summarize what you have read. When you use your own words to describe what you have read, it makes it more relatable and more memorable to you. Draw from your own factual knowledge and draw analogies to the passage. Have you read anything similar before? Have you experienced anything similar? Making these connections helps you retain what you have read.

9. Practice using new vocabulary

Identifying and using the vocabulary you have read can help you further your understanding of the reading. Were there any words that you did not understand? Try to infer the meaning of the word from the context it was in. Look up the word in our favorite dictionary to get an easy definition that everyone can understand. Make flashcards with the vocabulary and try to use a few words each day.

10. Build background knowledge

Having background knowledge in various areas can help you make more connections to what you have read and more easily understand the reading selection. This can be from listening to podcasts, going to museums, learning from experts directly, or even from what you have read in other books. When you have a bigger factual knowledge base, it is easier to draw analogies and conclusions to what you have read.

When these reading comprehension best practices are used, comprehension improves and learning becomes easy. What are some of your favorite ways to improve reading comprehension? Let us know in the comments.

What Research Says About Reading Comprehension

Fielding and Pearson in Educational Leadership (1994) state: “Once thought of as the natural result of decoding plus oral language, comprehension is now viewed as a much more complex process involving knowledge, experience, thinking, and teaching. It depends heavily on knowledge—both about the world at large and the worlds of language and print. Comprehension inherently involves inferential and evaluative thinking, not just literal reproduction of the author’s words.”

Keeping this in mind, it is refreshing to see that Fielding and Pearson mention knowledge and experience as important pieces of comprehension. Each reader brings with them a memory bank of past knowledge and experiences to whatever they are reading. This memory bank is then ‘tapped into’ during the reading process. Associations are made with prior knowledge. This, then, helps the reader to comprehend and use the information they have just read.

How does comprehension fit into the other principles of reading?

Comprehension is important for every student. It is the fifth principle of reading. Comprehension brings together the principles of reading: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, and vocabulary. This makes it so that you can read and understand quickly. This also aids both in your use of and understanding of words, sentences, and paragraphs quickly. When you are able to read quickly, comprehend, categorize, and use what you have read, true learning happens.

The Five Principles of Reading

Phonemic Awareness
Phonics
Fluency
Vocabulary
Comprehension

For more direct instruction on improving reading skills that include the five principles of reading, enroll in our Reading Program. Here, we teach the five principles of reading in a step-by-step way through video lessons and worksheets.

Who is Scholar Within?

Scholar Within was founded by learning expert Bonnie Terry, M. Ed., BCET. Bonnie began designing and developing her own custom educational tools when she started her private learning center in the 1990s. Teachers kept asking what she was using with the kids who saw her because of the dramatic improvements that the kids made in school. From there, Bonnie decided to make her materials available to teachers and families worldwide.

Now, Bonnie Terry has turned her materials into a full-service online program that you can follow step-by-step at home, on your schedule. School alone is not enough anymore. Bonnie’s programs boost your kid’s overall learning skills by focusing on improving the auditory, visual, and tactile processing areas of your brain to make it work more efficiently.

Learn more about Scholar Within.

Vocabulary and Reading: The Connection

How are vocabulary and reading connected?

To be able to understand what you have read, you need to know the meaning of the words that you are reading. Research tells us that vocabulary knowledge, including both oral and written vocabulary, is critically important for a child’s success in school (Kamil et al., 2008).

That being said, each person has a specific vocabulary, words that they know and use. Vocabulary is the body of words a person knows. The bigger vocabulary that a person has, the easier it is to read and comprehend what it is that they are reading.

“Vocabulary knowledge could be considered a proxy for a person’s background knowledge. A person that has more knowledge of a subject is likely to better comprehend text about that subject, as well as know more words related to the topic.” The Journal of Educational Research, Volume 2, 2009

The Four Principles of Reading

  1. Phonemic Awareness
  2. Phonics
  3. Fluency
  4. Vocabulary
  5. Comprehension

There are 3 specific tiers of vocabulary:

Tier 1: Most Frequently Used Words

Tier 1 consists of our basic vocabulary such as the most frequently used words. These are the words you typically first learn to read. These words include sight words, nouns, verbs, and adjectives.

Examples:

  • Nouns: cat, dog, book, table
  • Verbs: run, jump, eat, sit
  • Adjectives: big, small, pretty, mean

Tier 2: Multiple Meaning Words

Tier 2 vocabulary consists of more difficult words that are used frequently in everyday life. These are words like coincidence, industrious, masterpiece. When you don’t experience these types of words in your everyday life, your vocabulary suffers, as does your factual knowledge base. Additionally, Tier 2 words are words that often have multiple meanings. These words can be used in a variety of subject areas. These are words that make a huge difference in your ability to comprehend what you read. They often are descriptive words that add detail.

Examples:

  • Board: wood, committee, food
  • Company: business, visitors, group
  • Grind: crumble, smooth, work
  • Hammer: pound, repeat, mallet
  • Rich: wealthy, valuable, flavorful, fertile

Tier 3: Words Specific to Subject Matter

Tier 3 words are used less frequently. These are words that are typically used in specific subjects such as math, science, medical, or legal terms. These words are too specific to be taught outside of their specific areas.

Examples:

  • Math: perimeter, ratio, percentage
  • Science: cosmos, constellations, periscope, tepid
  • Medical: antibodies, diagnosis, plasma
  • Legal: brief, compensatory damages, demurrer

The Best Ways to Learn Vocabulary

What are some of our favorite ways to learn new vocabulary?

1. Books

Vocabulary and reading go hand in hand. The more that you read, the more words you will be exposed to. The beauty of books is that they use vocabulary in context through stories or topics. Try to pick books that are at grade level, but introduce new words. Make sure to have a dictionary on hand to look up words that you may not know. Often times, you can infer the meaning of new words from the context that they are used in.

2. Flashcards with a Picture, a Sentence, and the Definition

Flashcards can be instrumental in learning new vocabulary. One of the best ways to make flashcards for vocabulary is to draw a picture of what the word means. Sometimes it may be a scene where the word is within the context of the scene. Take it a step further by writing the word in a sentence that corresponds with the picture.

3. Podcasts

Listening to podcasts can be a great way to build your vocabulary. There are podcasts on thousands of topics and can expand your knowledge in a field and are a great way to build tier 3 vocabulary. Some of our favorite podcasts include But Why: A Podcast for Curious Kids and Wow in the World. For more great podcasts for kids, take a look at this top 25 podcasts for kids list.

4. Games

We love games to build vocabulary! This can be as simple as matching words with definitions. Our Reading Program includes numerous games to help build your vocabulary while having fun.

Studies from Sprenger (2005 and 2010) and the review of the current research on vocabulary instruction compiled by the National Reading Technical Assistance Center (2010) suggest the following ways to teach new vocabulary:

  1. Use story examples to model what the word means.
  2. Draw a picture of what the word means.
  3. Write the new word in a vocabulary notebook and keep your story example and picture with it.
  4. Use the new word every day for 5-10 days.
  5. Play games with the words.

For direct instruction and specific activities on improving reading skills with vocabulary, learn more about our Reading Program. The program integrates all five principles of reading seamlessly with step-by-step activities, games, and video lessons.

The Best Dictionary for Students

Best DictionaryThe Longman Dictionary of American English is our favorite dictionary for students and adults. It gives clear and simple definitions that anyone can understand. The font and type in the book are also easier to read than many dictionaries. Having a dictionary on hand can be crucial for your kids as they are in school.

Get The Longman Dictionary on Amazon

Download FREE Goal Setting Worksheet

Are you ready to do great things in 2020? We put together a goal setting worksheet to make the whole process of setting goals a little bit easier. We start off with a big audacious goal, move on to another goal that your child needs to accomplish (but might not be something that they are the most excited about), and we wrap up with one goal that they’d like to do if there is time to do it. Download the goal planning worksheet and share it with your friends.

Who is Scholar Within?

Scholar Within was founded by learning expert Bonnie Terry, M. Ed., BCET. Bonnie began designing and developing her own custom educational tools when she started her private learning center in the 1990s. Teachers kept asking what she was using with the kids who saw her because of the dramatic improvements that the kids made in school. From there, Bonnie decided to make her materials available to teachers and families worldwide.

Now, Bonnie Terry has turned her materials into a full-service online program that you can follow step-by-step at home, on your schedule. School alone is not enough anymore. Bonnie’s programs boost your kid’s overall learning skills by focusing on improving the auditory, visual, and tactile processing areas of your brain to make it work more efficiently.

Learn more about Scholar Within.

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