Prior Knowledge

Active learning

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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 on the most essential materials to be studied, and providing 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 limited 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 directed to list several ideas closely related to the topic. Determining what learners recall as the most critical points related to a topic while illuminating the connections students make between topics.
Memory Matrix Students fill in a two-dimensional diagram to organize information and illustrate relationships so the instructor can quickly analyze. 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 helpful feedback to the instructor on students’ comprehension of course content while at the same time encouraging students to formulate 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.

Keywordsprior knowledgeDoc ID104175
OwnerTimmo D.GroupInstructional Resources
Created2020-07-20 16:04:12Updated2023-12-22 11:45:43
SitesCenter for Teaching, Learning & Mentoring
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