Although we don’t generally think about it, every experience we have adds to a repertoire of events that create “us” – our background. The stories we share with friends, the lessons we teach our kids, and the bank of knowledge we use to make decisions in the moment. Everything we encounter adds to this background, called schema, which we use to put new information into meaningful context.
Schema is added to and shaped by new experiences and lessons. Throughout the school years, teachers and parents expose children to new information, adding their own background information to the lessons. It is in this way that many generations of humans have passed down information that is important; although, how we share these stories has evolved over the centuries.
Schema Theory uses open-ended questions to encourage students to use their backgrounds to dissect and comprehend media or a situation. Since this is a blog about reading, lets focus on using Schema Theory with books. As mentioned, you can help activate and build children’s schema by asking them simple, open-ended questions. Often it is easiest for children to focus on the relationships in a story since the ups and downs of a relationship are familiar to them. For example, if you just finished Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, you might discuss with your child the following:
“At the end of the story, Charlie wins. What character in another story has to pass a test to see if they are worthy of winning something?”
This is an example of a “text-to-text” comparison question, where one story is used to put another into context. Kids Read Now uses questions written in Schematic Theory as a ready-made guide for parents and educators to expand comprehension of what is being read. Every Kids Read Now selection has 4 questions written at the reading level of the book, called Discovery Questions. Each question uses a different aspect of schema theory to encourage connections.
The first 3 questions are:
- The aforementioned “text-to-text”
- A “text-to-self” question where the student is asked to compare the events or themes in the book to his or her own life
- A “text-to-world” question in which the student is encouraged to think about the greater world at large and how a story might be thought about from different perspectives. In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory you might ask your child to think about how the factory must be passed to a child. What would the adults of the world think of this? The other children?
The final question Kids Read Now adds to a book’s set of Discovery questions is a creative question. As we look back to our example of Roald Dahl’s classic, we might ask readers to invent 5 rooms in the chocolate factory with different candies, and then have them describe how these candies might get naughty children in trouble. Have them draw these rooms and tell you out loud, so you can ask them questions and have fun!
My final tips on building schema are to celebrate discoveries and help them share what they know! The confidence in their new connections will encourage them to continue to expand and grow!