Building on prior knowledge (PDF, 26 KB)
The purpose of the activity
An extended listening task (such as a lecture or long explanation) on an unfamiliar topic may present challenges for learners. The purpose of this activity is to teach a strategy that can be used before, during and after listening to help the listener focus on and understand the talk. The strategy of building on prior knowledge by semantic mapping also allows learners to compare and evaluate information and ideas.
The teaching points
- Learners use a specific strategy (building on prior knowledge) to support comprehension.
- Learners are able to listen for specific information.
- Learners are able to order and categorise information.
- Learners can evaluate the relevance of information to their own needs or purposes.
- As an alternative to the provided resource, consider a recorded, relevant lecture or extended explanation on a topic that is not yet familiar to learners (for example, a talk about health and safety in a specific work setting). 5-7 minutes of the talk will be sufficient for this activity.
- A whiteboard, large sheets of paper and pens.
The guided teaching and learning sequence
1. Explain the purpose of the activity and discuss with the learners the methods or strategies they use when they have to listen to a long lecture or talk about something they don’t know a lot about already.
2. Introduce the topic of the talk they will listen to and ask the learners what they know about the topic already. Explain that thinking about what we already know on a topic (even if it’s not a lot) before we listen is a good way to make sure we’re able to understand it. A semantic map is one way of doing this.
3. Start a semantic map on the whiteboard by drawing a central circle with lines coming from it. Write the topic in the circle and model how you could ‘map’ key words and ideas that you would expect to hear in a talk about the topic. For example, for a lecture on whales, you might expect to hear about their size, where they are found, different kinds, breeding, killing of whales and so on.
4. Map these by drawing lines from the circle and writing words on the lines. Some lines will branch out into finer or related details. Ask the learners to suggest other ideas for the topic and add them too.
5. Ask the learners to use the semantic map you have constructed as they listen to the lecture. Play the lecture.
6. With the learners, review the map in the light of what they have just heard. Were all our ideas covered? What important ideas did we miss out? How did the map help you to understand the talk?
7. Learners can now work in pairs or groups (at a whiteboard or on a large sheet of paper) to make their own semantic maps of the topic, adding, deleting or moving words to make a more complete and accurate ‘map’ of what they have heard. By doing this, they are combining what they already knew and what they actually heard to get a more accurate understanding of the topic.
8. Learners can listen again (if they haven’t got enough detail on their semantic maps) and continue to add detail.
9. The pairs/groups can share their findings with another group and add or change details to their maps if necessary.
10. Discuss the ways in which this strategy helped learners to prepare for and understand the content of the lecture, before, during and after listening.
11. Ask learners to reflect on whether they would use the strategy themselves and, if so, under what circumstances.
Learners can extend this concept and use semantic mapping as a way of taking notes in a lecture or long talk. Discuss ways to do this, for example, by starting with a semantic map before listening (mapping information and ideas they expect to hear) and adding key words to the map as they listen. After listening, learners can use coloured pens to group the ideas, to indicate the order or sequence of the lecture, or to highlight information they don’t understand. This method reduces the writing demand on learners.
The notes on the semantic map can be used as the basis of a written summary, with the purpose and audience clearly identified.
Learners can use the information in their mind maps to create information posters for their workplace or other relevant place.
Learners can do a short presentation based on their notes.
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