Prior Knowledge: The Popcorn Book

Grade Levels: 1 - 3


This lesson is designed to teach primary students how to activate prior knowledge before they begin reading. The lesson teaches students how to connect text to self, using the book The Popcorn Book, by Tomie de Paola. In this lesson, students make connections to themselves, their knowledge, and their experiences and help complete a KWL chart as the book is read aloud. This lesson is the first of a set of activating prior knowledge lessons designed for primary grades.


  • The Popcorn Book by Tomie de Paola

  • KWL Chart

  • Chart paper

  • Drawing paper


  1. Planning and Diagnostics

    For students to be able to use prior knowledge as a comprehension strategy, they need to be able to understand how the text and themselves are connected. As students advance in their understanding of prior knowledge, they will be able to connect the text to their world, and to other texts.

  2. Hook/Engagement

    Engage students to help them understand what it means to connect to a text. Tell them about a book (fiction or nonfiction) that you read recently and liked because you found a connection between yourself and the book or a character in some way. Explain your connection by thinking aloud: "I recently read ___________ (name of book), and I connected to the book because _______ (identified with main character, part of plot happened in your life, etc.). For example, "I recently read Lance Armstrong: The Race of His Life, by Kristen Armstrong, and I connected to the book because reading about his fight with cancer reminded me of my grandfather's illness and how his courage inspired me."

    Explain that making a text-to-self connection or "me connection" means making a connection between yourself and a character, an event, or the setting of a story you read. Ask students to use the same sentence frame to tell you about a story they read either in class or at home that they connected to personally. (If students cannot think of a story, they can connect to an appropriate television show or character.) Make sure the examples students give show how they connected to the text.

  3. Vocabulary

    • Archaeologist: a person who studies the material remains of past human life and activities

    • Iroquois: an American Indian people

    • Algonkians: an American Indian people

    • Pulpy: soft and spongy

    • Kernel: a whole seed, "a kernel of corn"

  4. Measurable Objectives

    Explain to students that they will make connections to themselves as they listen to The Popcorn Book, and that they will use a KWL chart to record those connections. Students will draw a picture that connects them to the story and then tell about their picture. The picture they draw and what they say about the picture will help you know what they have learned.

  5. Focused Instruction

    Explain to students that good readers think about what they already know about the topic before they read. Thinking about what they already know about parts of the story and connecting to a character, the setting, or an event helps them understand the story.

    Use a KWL chart, such as the one below, and model text-to-self connections or "me connections" to The Popcorn Book to activate what information you already know about the story topic:

    "The title of the book is The Popcorn Book. This book must have to do with popcorn and how to make it. Let's see, what do I know about popcorn? I know that it is white. It pops. It is a good snack to eat. It is hot at first. It is good with butter and salt. You can make it on the stove or in the microwave. Okay. Let me write everything that I know about popcorn in the chart." (Write this information in the first column. This is the column that contains the text-to-self connections.)

    Activating Prior Knowledge: Connecting Text to Self
    I know...I want to know...I learned...
    I know popcorn...
    is white.
    is a good snack to eat.
    is hot at first.
    is good with butter and salt.
    can be made on a stove or in the microwave.
    What are the boys doing?

    How do you make popcorn?

    What do Native Americans have to do with popcorn?

    What do caves have to do with popcorn?

    Are there different kinds of popcorn?

    Tony and Tiny are making popcorn.

    To make popcorn by heating up a pan, adding cooking oil, adding kernels, shaking the pan, and eating popcorn!

    Native Americans discovered popcorn.

    In a cave in New Mexico, archeologists found some popped corn that was left there 5,600 years before.

    The different kinds of popcorn are: white and yellow hull-less, strawberry, rainbow, and black.

    "Now, I'm going to look at some of the pictures in the book and see if I can think of some questions I have about the story that I can listen for when I read the story. (Turn the pages and point to the pictures that help you think of questions.) What are the boys doing? How do you make popcorn? What do Native Americans have to do with popcorn? What do caves have to do with popcorn? Are there different kinds of popcorn?" (Write these questions in the second column.)

    Next, think aloud a statement that sets a purpose for reading:

    "I know this book is about popcorn and how to make it, and I already know some things about popcorn. Now, I can read the story and find the answers to my questions and learn something new about popcorn."

  6. Guided Practice

    Tell students that you would like them to help you find the answers to the questions in your chart as you read The Popcorn Book aloud. Tell them that you will stop at certain points in your reading to talk about which questions from your chart you can now answer.

    Read the book aloud to students and make statements such as:

    "I keep my popcorn in the cabinet. I guess I should put it in the fridge. My Mom makes popcorn the same way that Tony and Tiny do. I've made too much popcorn before, too."

    Continue to make "I" connections as you read the story aloud to students and encourage them to also make personal connections to the story. Have students help you think aloud and write the answers to the questions you wrote in your KWL chart. (See answers in the third column of the chart above.) As you are reading the story to students, listen to students' "me connections." Make sure that they are connecting to the text in some way, not just repeating some of the factual information in the book. This book is a mix of both personal experience and historical information, and in this exercise, students should be making personal connections to the text and not simply repeating factual information about popcorn, Indians, and so forth.

  7. Independent Practice

    Take a few minutes to review the KWL chart with your students. Discuss more "me connections" students made as you were reading the story aloud to them. Then, ask them to draw a picture that shows how they connected to the story (a character, an event, a setting) in some way. Students can draw a picture that shows them making popcorn with their Mom or Dad, eating popcorn while at a movie or a fair, reading a recipe about popcorn, and so on. Advanced students might draw a picture of themselves making their favorite snack, reading a recipe about it, or writing or drawing a recipe for it. Once students finish their pictures, ask them to tell about their picture and how it shows them making a connection to The Popcorn Book.

  8. Assessment

    To assess whether students have learned how to make "me connections," listen to their explanations about their pictures and see whether they have connected to the text. Turn through the pages of The Popcorn Book again and see if students can point to the pictures and make "me connections." Introduce a new book to students and read the title aloud to them. Then, ask them to fill in the "I Know" column of a KWL chart and see whether they can make "me connections" to the new text.

  9. Reflection and Planning

    Determine which students understand how to make text-to-self connections and which students need help. For students who need more help, you may use a text they have already read and ask them to draw a picture that shows how they connected to the text. Plan to use a KWL chart for other stories you will read in class, and ask students to make "me connections" before reading the book.

For more information on teaching your students to connect texts to themselves, see Activating Prior Knowledge. Other lesson plans include Prior Knowledge: A House is a House for Me and Prior Knowledge: The Three Little Pigs.

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