2 minutes reading time (359 words)

What Is “Schema” in Education?

At PTO meetings or parent conferences, you might have heard the term “schema” (pronounced SKEE-mah) and its importance in reading comprehension. What exactly is “schema?” Simply put, schema is background knowledge that helps children organize and interpret the world around them. It is the gradual building of experience.
Schema is essential to reading comprehension, as it helps the reader make personal connections. From the time a baby is born, she is building and growing schema. The more background knowledge students have, the better their understanding of stories that are read to them, or they read independently. When the teacher is reading a Curious George story about a mischievous monkey, the student who has been to the zoo and seen an actual monkey can make a greater connection to the story. This deepens that student’s comprehension.

Having prior knowledge or experience helps a young reader:

  • visualize the story
  • make predictions
  • make meaningful connections to real-life experiences.

Here are three ways to help build your child’s memory of experiences:

Discussion Whenever you and your child have an opportunity to visit the zoo, beach, park, or visit with other family members, etc., always talk with your child about the day. This will greatly help your child remember the experience. For example, if you were at the beach, ask questions like “Was the water warm or cold?” or “Were those waves loud when they crashed on the shore?” By connecting other senses, such as how something felt or sounded, you are helping him strongly imprint the experience in his memory.

Create a connection
The Doorbell Rang, a book by Pat Hutchins, is about having to redistribute freshly baked cookies as more guests arrive. Prior to reading the book, make a batch of cookies together. Then talk about how she might have to divide them up to share with different numbers of friends.

Practice memory retrieval
Before reading another dinosaur story together, ask him to tell you what he remembers about previous dinosaur stories. Ask him about the difference between these large meat-eating or plant-eating creatures! Building experiences and activating prior knowledge can help your child make needed connections to become a better, more comprehensive reader.

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