Primed Background Knowledge

Successful acquisition of new information depends largely on (a) the knowledge the learner brings to a task, (b) the accuracy of that information, and (c) the degree to which the learner accesses and uses that information.

For students with disabilities and diverse learning needs, priming background knowledge is critical to success because it addresses the memory and strategy deficits they bring to certain tasks. In effect, priming is a brief reminder or prompt that alerts the learner to task dimensions or to retrieve known information.

Instructional materials can acknowledge the importance of background knowledge in two ways. First, students can be pretested for important background knowledge. Such tests can be used to determine placement within an instructional program or to alert teachers to the need for allocating time to background topics. It is often useful to assess the background knowledge of students with learning difficulties using formats other than reading and writing because these students frequently understand more than they can express through reading or writing.

Second, instructional programs can include important background knowledge in the scope of topics taught. Ideally, such background topics would be taught or reviewed a few days before the introduction of new strategies that depend upon those topics. If background topics are introduced earlier than that, students may forget some relevant aspects by the time the new strategy is introduced. If background topics are introduced in the same lesson as the new strategy, some students are likely to be overwhelmed by the quantity of new knowledge.

Clearly, the concept of strategic integration is closely related to essential background knowledge. The focus on strategic integration, however, emphasized increasing depth of understanding of important concepts. Here, the focus is on the prerequisites for learning important concepts so that they might be integrated meaningfully.

Evaluative Questions

  1. Identify the language background knowledge required of the task.
    • Does the lesson adequately explain or access this knowledge?
  2. Identify the component background knowledge.
    • Does the lesson adequately explain or access this knowledge?
  3. Identify the modifications necessary to accommodate the full range of learners.
    • Identify and access knowledge of language that is prerequisite to the objective.
    • Identify and access knowledge of components that are prerequisites for the objective.

*Excerpted from Toward Successful Inclusion of Students with Disabilities: The Architecture of Instruction by Edward J. Kameenui, and Deborah Simmons(1999).

Return to Design Principles.

Council for Exceptional Children

Provided in partnership with The Council for Exceptional Children.

If you need to teach it, we have it covered.

Start your free trial to gain instant access to thousands of expertly curated worksheets, activities, and lessons created by educational publishers and teachers.

Start Your Free Trial

Follow us on:

Follow TeacherVision on Facebook
Follow TeacherVision on Google Plus


Happy Halloween! Students love this fall holiday; take advantage of it! You'll find everything from costume patterns and printable Halloween masks to counting activities and vocabulary lessons.

2016 Presidential Elections
Election season is here! Help your students understand the process of our national elections (held on Tuesday, November 8), from the President down to local representatives, with our election activities. Read short biographies of presidential candidates Hillary Rodham Clinton (D) and Donald Trump (R), explore mock election ideas, create presidential trading cards, learn election vocabulary, play election bingo and more!

October Calendar of Events
October is full of events that you can incorporate into your standard curriculum! Our Educators' Calendar outlines activities for each event, including: Chemistry Week (10/16-22), Make a Difference Day (10/22), Black Tuesday (10/29/1929), and Halloween (10/31). Plus, celebrate Bullying Prevention Month, Computer Learning Month, Diversity Awareness Month, Family History Month, Fire Prevention Month, International Dinosaur Month, Learning Disabilities Month, and School Safety Month all October long!