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Prior Knowledge :: Prior Knowledge

Techniques for facilitating active learning activities that engage prior knowledge.

Active Learning
Prior Knowledge

Prior Knowledge activities assess students' learning of facts and principles. They measure how well students are learning the content they are studying and reveals how they are managing the accumulation of knowledge into their already established structures. Using these approaches, instructors can gauge how well the content is being or has been learned. 

Approach Description Outcome
Background Knowledge Probe Students 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 Outlines Students 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 Listing Students 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 Matrix Students 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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No.Document TitleIDUpdatedHits
1**** Prior Knowledge1041752023-03-231645
2Background Knowledge Probe in Large Courses (online)1035992023-03-231976
3Memory Matrix (ALC)1184832023-02-01879
4Focused Listing (ALC)1184822023-02-01656
5Empty Outlines (ALC)1184472023-02-01995
6Memory Matrix (classroom)1041722023-01-184486
7Minute Paper/Muddiest Point (online)1044072022-10-282456
8Empty Outlines (classroom)1041702022-10-283556
9Minute Paper/Muddiest Point in Large Courses (online)1033682022-10-282482
10Minute Paper / Muddiest Point (classroom)1040872022-10-283116
11Background Knowledge Probe (classroom)1041692022-10-284377
12Minute Paper/Muddiest Point (ALC)1184842022-10-28779
13Focused Listing (classroom)1041712022-10-283576

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