SIOP: Building Background Knowledge

By Carla Worden

Activating Prior Knowledge and Building Background

Building background knowledge is done in three specific ways through the SIOP method including activating prior life experiences, prior knowledge from past learning and final explicitly introduce and teach key vocabulary terms.


First, students to make connections from their "schemata" or knowledge of the world (Echevarria, Vogt and Short, 2008, p. 65) to the topic being studied. Activating this prior knowledge means that the teacher is working from many angels to tie in information from previous units and lessons or recalling experiences from outside the classroom. The more students make connections to new topics being studied the more understanding and awareness they bring to new concepts. Vogt (n.d.) explains, "any time we can connect explicitly to background knowledge the better off were going to be." The learning becomes more meaningful when the student can see that there are connections between what they learn on different days.


Building background knowledge includes reviewing material, showing photos, models, illustrations, and video clips. Visual aids help increase understanding and making connections to new concepts. It also requires explicitly teaching perquisite vocabulary. Key vocabulary for the unit should be explained, discussed and reviewed throughout the lesson. Echevarria, Vogt and Short (2008) describe the SIOP method of teaching vocabulary: "teachers select words that are critical for understanding the text or material and provide a vareity of ways for students to learn, remember, and use those words. In that way, students develop a core vocabulary over time," (p. 69).

Connections to Past Learning

One important way that teachers can help students make connections to past learning experiences is by encouraging students to keep a binder of their work materials. This way students save old handouts, maps, charts, graphic organizers, and notes. Echevarria, Vogt and Short (2008) write, "By preserving and referring to word banks, outlines, charts, maps, and graphic organizers, teachers have tools for helping students make critical connections," (p. 68). This can also be done cross-curricularly. An English teacher can ask students about historical events if it ties between new literature and a recent History unit taught by another teacher. Keeping a word wall and reviewing vocabulary already studied is another way to make connections to past learning.

How to Build Background Knowledge

Understanding Key Vocabulary Words

Key vocabulary can come from a number of different types of words. Understanding the different types of vocabulary used in a lesson is crucial to planning how to teach it. Echevarria, Vogt and Short (2008) suggest, "Think about how language will be used in your lesson: in your speech, in clas discussion, in the reading assignments, in writing tasks, and in the lesson activities," (p. 33). By writing specific language objectives it allows the teacher to specifically address the students' language needs.


Vocabulary can be divided in to three major subsets: content, general academic and word parts. Content vocabulary is language specific to the content area and is made up of words like metaphor and simile. General academic can be found across academic subjects, such as transition words, qualifying words or logical connectors. Finally, word parts refers to root words, prefixes and suffixes that help the learner make meaning of new words as related to word structure. Vogt (n.d.) states, "if youngsters don't have the prerequisite vocabulary to learn about a content concept, I need to teach it to them explicitly, not just once, but multiple times." This means introducing it at the start of the lesson, modeling the vocabulary in written and oral forms, and allowing multiple opportunities to use the vocabulary in a variety of activities.

For More Information, Check out

Making Content Comprehensible for English Learners


Echevarria, J., Vogt, M., & Short, D. (2008).Making content comprehensible for english learners the siop model. (fourth ed.). New Jersey: Pearson Education.