Designing Effective Projects : Tapping Prior Knowledge
Thinking Activities


Another thinking activity that has proven effective at all grade levels and across all curricular areas is the use of predictions. At the beginning of a project or during the middle of a project, having learners make predictions about what they are going to learn based on their prior knowledge is an effective strategy. Learners are given an opportunity to make “educated guesses” without the threat of being wrong. Because they can check the accuracy of their prediction, learners are more focused and engaged in the content and have a “stake” in the knowledge. Usually, if their prediction is incorrect, they are armed with new knowledge to correct their thinking and learn from their previous understanding. The use of predictions also sparks learners’ higher-level thinking by tapping into their evaluative, comparative, and analysis skills.

Example Prompt Prediction: Based upon what you know about frogs and frog habitat what do you predict might happen to a frog if it is taken out of its natural habitat and placed into an artificial one? Why do you think this might happen?

Example Learner Prediction:
I predict that the frog will eventually die. I predict this because it will have difficulty adapting to a new environment. It may have the same things like water, rocks, and food but it won’t be the same as its home in the wild. The main thing that will be missing is the space and the other frogs. Plus, the water in the natural habitat has a balance of the right type of bacteria in the water and it’s hard to keep the artificial water the exact same as it would be in the wild. If the aquarium is indoors it might also be hard to keep the temperature just right for the frog. I think my prediction will be right, and I will be sad if it is.

The use of analogies as a tapping prior knowledge thinking activity is a quick and easy strategy to use with learners. Analogies help to arm learners with comparative skills and language to compare what they are learning to what they already know. This strategy gives the learner a point of reference and an opportunity to make sense of new content. Analogies are effective thinking strategies for all grade levels and content areas and can help spark discussions.

Example Analogy Prompt: Now that we have begun to study the eye, can you look at the diagram of a camera and think about how an eye is like a camera?

Example Analogy: Both a camera and an eye have a lens that lets in the light. The pupil of an eye gets bigger and smaller like the aperture of a camera. We’ve learned that the eye sees things upside down, and so does a camera.


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