Designing Effective Projects : Tapping Prior Knowledge
Written Activities


Learn About Written Activities
Written activities that prompt learners to write and reflect upon what they already know help learners tap prior knowledge.

Quick Writes
Quick writes are usually done at the beginning of the lesson, project or section of work to get learners to think about the new content or respond to a prompt. The writing is not marked and allows learners the freedom to express their ideas and make personal connections to the new content being addressed. Occasionally, teachers will challenge learners to write or brainstorm their ideas within a time limit. Once they are completed, these quick writes stimulate class discussion. 

Example Prompt: Take five minutes to write about what friendship means to you. Use examples and brainstorm characteristics of a good friend.

Example Response: Friendship means a lot to me. I have many friends. We like to play together and tell each other our secrets. My friend, Melanie, spends the night at my house. She is kind, caring, and funny. That’s what I like about her. Friends should never be mean and if they are, they should apologize and say they’re sorry. Friends are important people. Everyone should have one.

Another way to prompt learners and activate prior knowledge is journal writing. Like a quick write, but longer and not necessarily timed, journal writing allows learners to respond to a prompt or write what they already know about a topic. These journal responses may be collected and reviewed to give feedback to the learner. The journal may cover several topics over the course of a semester or quarter. The entries could be shared with partners or small groups to spark discussion. If marked, journals should not be marked for content but rather for effort, completeness, and thoroughness. 

Journaling can be used across the curriculum and is not just a language arts activity. Journaling can be just as effective in a mathematics classroom as it is in an English classroom. Allowing learners to organize their thinking, respond to new content, and make personal connections without the threat of marks, is very important in tapping learners’ prior knowledge. 

Example Journal Prompt: How do you feel about voting? Give examples and support your opinion.

Example Journal Entry:
I believe in voting. I believe that democracy is a privilege even if your vote is one voice in a million. It’s hard to see how one vote will make a difference when a simple majority wins. But that is why it is important to vote, your vote may make the difference.


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