Activate knowledge to spark the cognitive process

If you want your students to learn what you want them to learn, it’s smart to activate their knowledge base before you begin delivering content.

Activating the knowledge base is educator jargon for prompting students to think about the topic you want them to learn before you introduce the topic.

Activating students’ knowledge base is to teaching methods what dangling a worm in the water is to fishing: You call attention to your bait in the expectation the fish will latch on to it.

Bait your hook with attractive activators

You have many options with which to bait your lesson hook. My personal favorite is informal writing prompts because they force every student to rise to the bait. If you choose informal writing:

1. You could prompt students to reveal facts they know about the topic. 

All the "facts" students know may not be correct, which provides secondary bait. It’s also possible that students know nothing on the topic, which might prompt curiosity to fill that knowledge gap.

2. You could bait your lesson hook with an informal prompt to reveal experiences students have had that are relevant to the lesson you’re going to cast before them.

3. If you expect students already have some information, correct or not, on the lesson topic, you could bait them to reveal their attitudes toward the topic.

4. You could bait your hook with an invitation to students to reveal their assumptions about your lesson topic.

Land students in the cognitive processes

Once students have risen to the bait, all you have to do is pull them in.

I say "all you have to do," but there’s nothing easy about pulling students in. It requires determination, strategic knowledge, skills developed through long practice, hard work, and a bit of luck thrown in.

The important thing is that you do land students smack in the cognitive process.

Get their "little grey cells" functioning.

Get their neurons passing messages.

Get students thinking, for as cognitive scientist Daniel T. Willingham says in his book Why Do Students Hate School?:

Quote: Whatever students think about is what they will remember.