Easy Ways to Build Background Knowledge Using Technology

Easy Ways to Build Background Knowledge Using Technology

We all know how important it is to help spark a child's background knowledge before delving into a story or teaching a new topic. We use anticipation/prediction guides, ask many questions, go on carousel walks, interact with realia and fill out KWL charts. In today's classroom building background knowledge is easier than ever before with the help of instructional technology! Here are 5 EASY ways you could do this using technology:

Using digital collaborative boards are a great way to have your students brainstorm together in real time. Name your topic and have your students add words, phrases or ideas about their own background knowledge that they can share with others. This would be a great alternative to printed out KWL charts! Save some trees :) Here are a few that I enjoy:

Answer Garden: This one is SO easy that even the little ones CAN do it :) You set up a FREE Answer Garden board (no login required!) and it gives you a specific url link that you have your students click on. You enter the topic and decide if you would like for their answers to be less than 20 or 40 characters. As students type in words, Answer Garden makes a gigantic word cloud of everyone's responses all in one place. Students LOVE to see their friends' thoughts pop up on their screen:

Padlet: A true teacher favorite! This one works the same way as Answer Garden; however, you can customize the background and students can add pictures of themselves and other images to their "post-it".

You can set up a Padlet wall without logging in but I like to set up a FREE account to sign into so my Padlet walls are saved. Once your wall is added head to the gear icon where you can personalize your wall. If you click on "Layout", you can choose if you want the post-its to appear freeform, stream (like Facebook) or Grid. I recommend choosing either grid or stream. Padlet always defaults to freeform and it is a jumbled mess when the kids start adding their ideas to the board. Their post its start overlapping one another. Therefore, grid or stream are the way to go!

Just like Answer Garden, Padlet gives you a specific url link for your students to click on to access the wall.

Primary Wall: This one is very similar to Padlet; however a little more simplistic. You can create a board without signing in but if you would like to customize the background then you will need to create a free account. Primary Wall does not allow students to add images.

Another easy to use collaborative board is BoardThing


I always enjoy starting my lessons off with a little video clip. There is nothing like showing that random white-tailed deer lifecycle (2nd grade SOL) in action. Two to three minute clips can be so powerful by providing students with a mental image of what you are talking about. Edudemic has a great run down of 100 best video sites for educators {Click HERE}. SafeShare and ViewPure are great sites to visit that will turn your YouTube videos into "safe" videos you can show your class without ads and other distractions. Simply copy the url link of the YouTube video you want, paste it in the site and BOOM...it gives you a new link to use for your video. With that being said, the main reason I wanted to make video clips one of my top 5 ways to build background knowledge is because I wanted to share a project I am working on with a team of unbelievable ITRTs who have formed a group called Math on the Spot. We wanted to make videos for Virginia MATH SOLs that will show real world experiences when it comes to using math. We have launched our site, Math on the Spot, and have our first video ready to roll all about probability/making combinations. So far we have only created one video because we were waiting to hear back about a grant for new video equipment. My team members who wrote the grant just found out that we received the $$. So get ready for some awesome math videos coming soon! Check out our probability/making combinations video we created at SWEET FROG (please excuse my weak acting skills):

You will notice our site will house the videos and "techie" activities to go along with each video.


Often times teachers pull down their World Map to show their students WHERE a story took place, where an ancient civilization was located, or the distance between an area of the world they are talking about in relation to where their school is located. Educational technology provides so many quick and easy tools for building background knowledge with geography. Google EarthGoogle MapsGoogle Tour Builder and Scribble Maps are just a few of my favorites. When I was a classroom teacher I would pull up Google Maps on my board and we would "travel" to the different parts of the world where our story was taking place or when we were studying different events/civilizations in Social Studies. Today I use Google Tour Builder to build a quick tour of the area I want students to understand for whatever we study. Here is one a 2nd grader created last year when studying Ancient Egypt:


Virtual Field Trips are another powerful way that teachers can directly build background knowledge. There are a ton of awesome resources available online for virtual field trips but here are a FEW of my FREE favorites:

 Smithsonian Museum

Global Trek

AR Sights

George Washington's Mount Vernon

The White House

Google Lit Trips


Finally, ditch the paper and pencil anticipation/prediction guides and have your students use a free online survey tool to make "guesses". Survey MonkeyPollMaker and Polldaddy are great survey tools. You can also accomplish the same task by using a classroom performance system like KahootQuizizzPlickersClassResponder, etc. These will truly grab your students' attention and provide you instant feedback. You can even use the same tool AFTER reading or learning about a certain topic and the students can see how much they improved!

For example, next week I am going to be talking to a few classes about Internet Safety and Research...BORING! However, I thought it would be fun to start off with an anticipation guide to see what they know/don't know by playing a quick round of Kahoot. Kahoot allows you to play in a game mode (it will tell students if they are correct or not) or survey mode. Since I don't want to reveal the correct answers at the start, I am going to play this game in survey mode. They will answer 5 questions using either a laptop, iPad or iPod (any device that has internet access!):

I will then give my presentation and end with an actual digital quiz that the students will take using the fun and interactive tool, Quizizz. Both Kahoot and Quizizz allow the teacher to print out a spreadsheet that indicates how each child performs...heck yeah!

I have always loved using anticipation/predication guides because I find students LOOKING and sometimes ASKING for the information to see if they were correct or not. There is nothing like a little self competition :)