Background Knowledge & Vocabulary

Making Connections to enhance learning

If you were creating a SIOP lesson, how will you activate students’ prior knowledge and build background?

  • Try to explicitly connect to students’ background knowledge. (Vogt, Building background video, n.d.)
  • Link to background learning. Connect to units already taught and what is learned in the past.
  • Using and connecting background knowledge with students in the classroom to background knowledge.
  • Make explicit links to past learning. Help students forge connections. Bring up previous lessons, show maps, make connections between all lessons.
  • Focused attention to key vocab and academic language.
  • Use small group mini lesson
  • To help students make connections to the content topics, reflect on the amount of background knowledge needed to learn and apply the concepts, and plan ways to build or activate students’ prior knowledge related to them. (Echevarria, Vogt, Short, 2013, Pg. 39)
  • Connecting students’ experiences to a text, developing background knowledge, and teaching key vocabulary are all effective ways to increase comprehension and achievement. (Echevarria, Vogt, Short, 2013, Pg. 65)

What connection to past learning can you make?

  • It is of critical importance that teachers build background using techniques that fill in the gaps and help students connect what they do know with what is being taught. And when teachers’ explanations are made more concrete with supplementary materials, students are more likely to make the appropriate connections. (Echevarria, Vogt, Short, 2013, pg. 67)
  • Use visuals for ELL students that may not understand the new vocabulary
  • Teachers must make a bridge between each lesson, trying to keep in mind the cultural differences with students.
  • Explicit links can be made through discussions, power points, graphic organizers, class notes, class word walls, outlines, charts, and graphs.

In SIOP lessons, new information is explicitly linked to students' background and experiences, and instructional scaffolding provides students with access to grade-level content concepts. -Echevvaria, Vogt & Short, 2013, pg. 65

What are key vocabulary words and how will you teach them?

Key vocabulary is broken up into three categories:

  1. Content Vocabulary- Subject specific and technical terms (key words and terms associated with a particular topic)
  2. General Academic Vocabulary- cross-curriculuar terms/process (these are words in all subject areas)
  3. Function and Word Parts- roots and affixes (these help students determine word meaning and understand new vocabulary.


  • If kids don’t have the prerequisite vocabulary to learn about a content concept, I need to teach that vocabulary to them explicitly- not just once but multiple times. (Vogt Building background video, n.d.)
  • Some techniques to teach new vocabulary is an academic word list, “one, two, three” tier words, vocab charts, drawing the definition, stopping to think of synonyms for the new word, concept definition map, word study, and vocabulary games.