In this post, I’ll talk about why teaching schema is important, give some ideas and tips for teaching about schema to your young readers, and discuss when we should explicitly teach schema within our classrooms.
You’re at a fancy restaurant. You know the kind I’m talking about. You’re scared to move your arm in case you knock over a glass of water – and it’s more than likely not the “free” kind of water you are used to drinking. The water in your glass is probably costly because it was bottled from some rare mountain stream, and the menu in front of you looks as though it is written in a foreign language. How are you going to figure out what to order? The only thing you can remotely figure out is an item at the top, named Soupe de Poisson à la Rouille. You know poisson is french for “fish,” so you can assume it is a fish soup with some sort of sauce. How did you figure that out? You used your schema, or prior knowledge, to order off of the menu. In the same way that activating our schema is essential to our everyday lives, it becomes especially critical to the success of our young readers.
As you can see in the picture below, I have a lot of FUN resources and items that I use to teach schema to my primary readers. Let’s dig in!
Just as I shared in the “fancy menu example” above, activating what we already know about something helps us better understand it. Comprehension is defined as “the action or capability of understanding something.” It is much more difficult to understand something when we come to the table with absolutely no prior knowledge. Even if we have some prior knowledge but do not activate that prior knowledge before we read, it is much more difficult for us to truly understand and make connections. Our schema helps us interpret the world around us. If we don’t actively think about what we are reading, we are simply reading words without meaning. Teaching students to think forms the foundation for comprehension and meaning. So often (and I have been guilty of it as well), I see teachers spending weeks and weeks on main idea, problem and solution, and how to identify the character and setting of a text. While these are absolutely necessary components to reading comprehension, let’s not forget to start at the foundation for all learning: thinking. Comprehending text is a product of thinking. A reader simply cannot comprehend a text without actively thinking about it. For that reason, it is not just a “good idea” to explicitly teach students about metacognition and schema – it is imperative that we give it the attention it deserves.
Have you ever said to a student, “Think about it?” I have! I am guilty of telling my students to “think” about something, and assuming they know what it means to “think.” This is especially important when we are teaching primary readers. Thinking is hard! Throw in the fact that thinking is a very abstract concept to young children, and we increase the need to teach our kids what it means to think about what they read. Anytime we can make thinking visible and concrete for our readers, the better! In the picture below, you’ll see that I cut out and taped a picture of a brain onto colorful craft sticks. Why? Completing a think aloud while I read a book to my class is a powerful way to model how to think about text. I can make this think aloud even more powerful by adding a visual model every time I ‘think aloud” to my students. When I read a page in a book, and stop to share my thinking with my class, I hold up a thinking stick so the students can visibly see that my brain is very busy! When I make connections and activate my prior knowledge (schema), my brain has to do a lot of thinking! (You can find the thinking sticks in the photo above and below in my Schema and Metacognition pack found HERE.)
Our brain remembers connections, not random facts. That’s why our dendrites connect as we continue to learn more and more about something. One of the best ways to teach students how important it is to activate schema all the time, is to help them see what it looks like to think about what they know before, during, and after they read. In the same way that thinking and learning go hand in hand, schema and connections go hand in hand. I can’t make a deeply relevant text-to-self connection to an event in a book if I’ve never experienced it myself. I can’t truly understand how sad a character is feeling at the beginning of a novel if I’ve never felt sad myself. Helping our students activate and think about their own experiences they’ve had, people they’ve met, places they’ve been, and books they’ve read, will help them better understand the text. We can do this by showing them what it looks like to activate schema before, during, and after reading. Students can write about what they know, draw pictures about what they know, and orally share what they know with a partner or the class. In my classroom, we organize our schema and our thinking by showing what it looks like before, during, and after, during whole group lessons, small group lessons, and during independent reading. Pictured below is an interactive notebook lesson found within my Schema and Metacognition Pack (click HERE).
“When should I start to teach schema and metacognition in my classroom?”
On Day One. And every day after that. Good readers think and activate schema without even realizing they are doing it. However, some of our young readers will struggle with this, so it’s important to remind them and encourage them right from the beginning of the year, and consistently throughout the year. You can help readers do this by having them use thinking stems to start their thought. Some of these thinking stems include:
This reminds me…
It’s also important to note that your primary readers’ schema is changing every.single.day. Sometimes, it changes hour to hour and minute to minute. As our children experience new things, read new books, meet new people, and visit new places, their schema and what they know about the world around them changes. They bring this new knowledge with them every time they open up a new book. We can show students how new learning and new schema sticks to their brain by using a variety of concrete objects. In the picture below, I used a feather duster to show my students how schema “sticks” to our brains. A detailed lesson plan that uses a feather duster during an interactive whole-class activity can be found within my Schema & Metacognition pack. It also contains graphic organizers to coordinate with the concrete object and student printables to use within the lesson. You can find it by clicking here!
As you teach students about schema, don’t forget to share with them that it’s OK for readers to think they know something, only to learn that they did not really understand it as well as they thought they did. This is called a misconception, and our primary readers need to know that misconceptions lead to new learning – and that is a GOOD thing! We also need to teach students how to go back into the text to revise misconceptions. This skill is closely linked to the importance of text evidence when we read. (If your students are in need of practice in finding proof and evidence during and after they read a text, you’ll love my Text Evidence Reading Passages found here.)
In the photographs below, I used misconception cards and passages to teach my students how to explicitly go back into the text to revise common misconceptions. When we make a misconception on an anchor chart, we simply write the correct information beside it and underline or mark the place in the text that proves our answer. You can find this detailed lesson and all of the differentiated resources that come with it by clicking here.
I hope the information above gave you some good information and a great starting point for teaching schema and metacognition in your primary classroom. Pictured above are just a few of the resources and activities that I created and use to teach this important strategy to young readers. In my Concrete Comprehension: Schema and Metacognition Pack for Primary Readers, I share five detailed lesson plans that are not only aligned to Common Core standards, but are differentiated for kindergarten to 2nd grade students. (If you are looking for an intermediate version, click here to check out Amanda Nickerson’s pack for Intermediate Readers.)
The pack contains student friendly exit slips, anchor charts, and graphic organizers that can be used and repeated for additional lessons with any read aloud or small group text you choose.
As you can see below, the pack contains a variety of concrete, highly visual lessons and activities for your students! Your students will have SO much fun as they use file folders, sour patch candy, mood rings, and more! All of the concrete objects can easily be found around your classroom, the house, or at your local general or discount store.
You can learn more about this comprehension resource by clicking HERE or on the image below to check it out in my store!
Thank you SO much for visiting my blog and learning about why, when, and how to teach schema to primary readers (and how to have FUN doing it!). I’m so very glad you joined me today for this comprehension topic, and look forward to sharing new strategies, ideas, and resources with you throughout this new series.