Prior Knowledge

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Techniques for facilitating active learning activities that engage prior knowledge.

Background Knowledge ProbeStudents answer a short survey to collect feedback on their prior learning, including knowledge or beliefs that may hinder or block further learning.Identifying the most effective starting point for instruction, focusing attention on the most important materials to be studied, and providing both a preview of what is to come and a review of what they already know.
Empty OutlinesStudents are given an empty or partially completed outline of an in-class presentation or homework assignment and a limited amount of time to fill in the blank spaces.Assessing students’ understanding of a lecture, reading, or other activity while helping students recall and organize the main points within an appropriate knowledge structure.
Focused ListingStudents are given a single term, name, or concept and are directed to list several ideas that are closely related to the topic.Determining what learners recall as the most important points related to a topic while illuminating the connections students make between topics.
Memory MatrixStudents fill in a two-dimensional diagram used to organize information and illustrate relationships in a way that can be quickly analyzed by the instructor.Helping students recall important course content while assessing their skill at organizing that information into categories provided by the instructor.
Minute Paper |
Muddiest Point
Students write a response to some variation of a question like: “What was the most important thing you learned today?”; “What important questions remain unanswered?”; or “What was the muddiest point in today’s lecture?”Offering useful feedback to the instructor on students’ comprehension of course content while at the same time encouraging students to formulate their questions about their learning.


Angelo, Thomas A., and K. Patricia Cross. Classroom Assessment Techniques: a Handbook for College Teachers. Jossey-Bass, 1993. pp. 119-158.

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