Unleash the potential of knowledge-building in language comprehension

Every child is capable of becoming a skilled reader. Every classroom can provide that opportunity and drive student success—through a content-rich literacy curriculum.

We’ll show you how.

The relationship between knowledge, language comprehension, and literacy skills

The Science of Reading shows that early literacy skills are best built deliberately, on a foundation of knowledge. Knowledge-building is not a result of reading and language comprehension; it’s a vital prerequisite and a fundamental part of the process. When students read a text—even a tough one—on a familiar topic, they’re more likely to comprehend it. In other words: The more you know, the more, and faster, you learn.


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Why is building knowledge so important?

Background knowledge—coupled with comprehension strategies—fuels students’ capacity to understand texts, answer questions, and grapple with ideas.

  • Explicit knowledge-building is a matter of equity.

  • Knowledge—both broad and deep—is vital for comprehension.

  • Knowledge-building supports students throughout school—and life.

Getting started with knowledge-based learning

Effective literacy instruction must celebrate the experiences students have but not assume each student has specific pieces of prior knowledge. Rather, it must build knowledge in the classroom. Students (and teachers) need curricula that expose them to a diverse array of new topics—spanning history, science, literature, culture, and the arts—in an intentional sequence that builds a rich and common knowledge base from which all students can draw.

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Before and after knowledge-building: What knowledge looks like in the classroom

Making connections to what students already know

Before: Teachers “activate” students’ prior knowledge before reading.
After: Teachers build students’ knowledge explicitly for students to leverage later as background knowledge

Developing reading comprehension

Before: Teachers focus instruction on comprehension strategies (e.g., “strategy of the day” instruction).
After: Teachers focus on content and use comprehension strategies to help students gain knowledge of that content.

Introduction of new topics and information

Before: Students learn about content-area topics individually in disconnected units of instruction.
After: Students learn topics through a coherent approach that builds knowledge within and across units of instruction.

What to look for in a knowledge-building literacy curriculum

When choosing and implementing a high-quality curriculum that builds knowledge, it’s important to keep in mind some key criteria.

It develops content knowledge.

The program should immerse students in a given domain for weeks—that’s how they acquire academic knowledge. The content should also develop from grade to grade, so that students learning about Renaissance art can reflect on and compare to what they previously learned about art in the Middle Ages.

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It leverages read-alouds for exposure to complex language.

In early grades, students’ listening comprehension outpaces their reading comprehension. Interactive read-alouds can be used to expose students to academic language and rich vocabulary. With background knowledge, vocabulary words are “the main support beams in the comprehension house.” This approach also helps teachers introduce students to new information and experiences—in a supportive and interactive environment.

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It introduces students to a wide variety of topics and content.

A content-rich curriculum exposes students to broad knowledge over time in a systematic, cumulative way instead of spending several months on just one topic. And while that’s happening, students are participating in enriching discussions and writing activities so they can further interact with the content, promoting deeper engagement and supporting retention of both the knowledge and associated vocabulary.

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It builds both knowledge and foundational skills.

Knowledge-building is just one component of literacy development. A content-rich curriculum that helps students build both knowledge (language comprehension) and skills (word recognition) takes into account both sides of the Reading Rope, giving students everything they need to build the foundation for a lifetime of literacy success. Instead of learning to read so they can read to learn, with a content-rich curriculum, students learn to read and learn about the world at the same time, enabling them to understand what they’re reading.

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“Shifting from balanced literacy to a knowledge-building curriculum was a huge change for us. [Amplify] CKLA systematically builds knowledge from unit to unit and across grade levels. Students are constantly making connections to what they learned earlier in the year. We are excited to see the connections that they make after they have had a few years of the program. Student engagement has significantly increased. They are excited about the topics that they are learning. I never would have thought that students would find the War of 1812 or Ancient Greek Civilizations fascinating, but they do!”

—Christina Pina, Instructional Data Specialist, Chicopee Public Schools, Ludlow, MA

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