Category Archives: Universal Design Learning (UDL)

10 Strategies and Tools to Activate Knowledge

Understanding what your students already know is key to building initial knowledge that they need. Activating Prior Knowledge is important in students understanding, because it allows them and helps make connections to the new information. Using what students already know, helps teacher assist students with the learning process.

Most teachers utilize a K-W-L Chart for activating knowledge and in 2012 I wrote a blog post Beyond KWL Charts describing eight different strategies, I thought it was time for an update with some new strategies and tools that help “honor what students bring to the classroom and provides them with necessary context and connection to the purpose and payoff of what is to be learned. It is essential to culturally relevant pedagogy,” according to Jeffery D. Wilhelm, Adam Fachler, and Rachel Bear are the authors of the book Planning Powerful Instruction: 7 Must-Make Moves to Transform How We Teach–and How Students Learn.

KWHLAQ – These updated charts extend the range of a basic KWL chart to incorporate more metacognition, and follow-through towards continuing learning and related action. This chart includes How, Actions, and Questions alongside of the traditional what do you already know, what do you want to know, and what have your learned.

BRAIN POURS/BRAIN DUMPS – Brainstorming comes in many forms and asks students to write down everything they remember about a topic or subject. This is similar to a free write where students write all the things that come to their mind or they are thinking about without worrying about spelling, punctuation, and proper usage.

CAPTION THIS – One of my favorite activities from Matt Miller of Ditch That Textbook, the teacher selects an image and students annotate, comment, and even write a story to describe what they see in the image.

PADLET – This platform is great for collaboration and curation of ideas and activities. I use Padlet with my grad students and middle school students to share ideas, explain concepts, and collaborate in the brainstorming process.

ANSWER GARDEN – Another great online tool to post a question to the class and have students respond in 140 or 170 characters, what is great about this platform is that it creates a word cloud of all the responses with the most repeated words larger than others.

ANTICIPATION GUIDES – An anticipation guide is a comprehension strategy in any content area that poses statements or questions for students about the larger themes and ideas presented in the unit. I use anticipation guide often prior to a reading unit to gauge students thinking about themes connected to the unit of study. You can preview the one I created on Google Forms on WW2 and the Holocaust

GALLERY WALK – During a gallery walk, students explore multiple texts or images that are placed around the room. I use this strategy for students to respond to a collection of quotations, images, and textual excerpts. This strategy requires students to physically move around the room, it can be engaging to kinesthetic learners. Texts should be displayed “gallery style,” in a way that allows students to disperse themselves around the room, with several students clustering around each particular text. Texts can be hung on walls or placed on tables. The most important factor is that the texts are spread far enough apart to reduce significant crowding. Students walk around the room to read or view the texts around the room and then respond or comment on poster paper, a graphic organizer, or later during a large class debrief.

GAMES like Kahoot, QuizletLive, Quizalize, Quizizz – Test what students already know about a topic or idea by asking a series of questions on a game platform. Students love these games and they are perfect to access prior knowledge with low stakes or can also be utilized at the end of the lesson to see what students learned.

SURVEYs/QUESTIONAIRES – Make a list of 10-15 statements related to the subject content, including commonly held misconceptions. Have students mark “true” or “false” next to each statement.

WORD WEBS – Provide students with a word web of key words and concepts related to the topic or concept to be learned. Ask students to circle the words they already know or write a sentence using a 4-5 of the words that explains the connections between the ideas presented in the word web.

Have more ideas that work well with your students, share in the comments section for our readers.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Scaffolding for Learner Success

Scaffolding is an instructional approach that provides the gradual release of responsibility (Pearson & Gallagher, 1983) for students as they develop proficiency. Stemming from Lev Vygotsky (1962) scaffolding or “collaborative dialogue” between the learner and the teacher allows students to move along a continuum of progress, from needing teacher support to eventually needing no teacher support. In the process of releasing responsibility to students, teachers scaffold or support using language and teaching tools that promotes growth and development.

Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris (2019) suggest “the graduate release structure can be applied within a single lesson or across lessons. The purpose of the gradual release of responsibility model is to increase the learning that students transfer to independent practice, thus developing more skilled and agentive readers and writers.”  

There are three (3) steps in the gradual release of responsibility:

1 – The teacher models

2 – Students practice with others

3 – Students practice independently

In an effort to help teachers understand types of scaffolds and ways to utilize them for student academic support, I have created this gallery walk to explore. Each door provides a different type of scaffold with examples utilized with my middle school students. Three of the scaffolds include Screencasts, How-To Sheets, and Learning Centers.


A  screencast is a great way for students to learn new topics or listen to a review. Using the tool, screencastify,  plan and script an instructional screencast for teaching writing (writing an introduction, body, or counterclaim, etc). For a how-to video, click here.  This approach can address the needs of visual/auditory learners. Here are a few examples of ones created for 8th grade students on essay writing.

A teacher made how-to sheet can be a powerful tool for building student responsibility for learning. Simple, step-by-step directions for accomplishing a skill can enable students to move forward independently. The how-to sheet should focus on learning a specific skill to address the needs of visual learners. Check out this sample.

A teacher-made learning center can be used to re-teach or move beyond a certain skill. Learning centers guide students to grapple with core concepts and skills. Learning centers can address your kinesthetic learners.

What does scaffolding mean for teachers in a blended or online learning environment? Scaffolding can take several different forms. From breaking down larger assessments into subtasks to providing examples and encouraging reflection, the goal of scaffolding is to create opportunities for students to receive structured support and grow as learners. Providing examples, models, and checklists can be beneficial for all learners. Using graphic organizers to help break down assignments into smaller chunks allowing students the opportunity to reflect, question, and even reach out for help if they need it. Additionally, providing directions in written format, audio using an App like Mote: Voice Notes & Feedback for students to hear the directions or providing a screencast to review the directions as many times as needed and guides the students through the learning process.

Northern Illinois University’s Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center notes some additional ways students benefit from instructional scaffolding: 

  • Scaffolding challenges students through deep learning and discovery.
  • Scaffolding helps learners become better students.
  • Scaffolding increases the likelihood of student success. 
  • Scaffolding individualizes instruction.

Tagged , , , , ,