Experiencing the Known

Alphabet Ladder

Create a vertical list from A-Z, leaving spaces for 3 or 4 entries for each letter. Ask students to fill in the ladder using terms, factors, people or events associated with the topic and their meanings. This activity can be extended by inserting extra columns for more information related to the words listed. Once many words have been listed, students can sort them and label the categories or create associations through concept maps.

Baseline Data

Interview students about what they know or to provide an explanation of what they understand about a topic or how they undertake a skill, e.g. reading and writing strategies. Repeat at the end of the student to check the level of understanding of students and awareness or metacognition about their learning.

Before and After Web

Students write up to eight facts that they know on a particular topic in the inner circle spaces. After reading a text or studying a topic they add new knowledge to the outside circle; the inner and outer circle facts do not have to match. Students then share their before and after wheels in a small group discussion.

Book Orientation and Predictions

Show the title, the author and the picture on the cover of the book. Do a picture flick, showing the images (if appropriate) and using some key words from the text as you show the images. Students will be able to predict using the images and key words.

Students then write one or two sentences on what the text might be about and some words or phrases that they might expect to see in the text. Instead of writing students could use a Think-Pair-Share to share their predictions. During reading stop and ask students to revise their predictions. After reading students discuss whether their predictions were correct.

Alternatively students write their predictions and then move around the room reading their own and listening to other predictions. They do not discuss or comment on other predictions. When they return to their seats, they rework their predictions and/or work in a small group to come up with a group prediction.


Was your prediction confirmed? Why or why not?

Revised Prediction 2:

Was your prediction confirmed? Why or why not?

Revised Prediction 3:

Was your prediction confirmed? Why or why not?

Revised Prediction 4:

What will happen next?


Brainstorming is a way of finding out the ideas that learners bring to a topic or issue.

  • Everybody writes down their initial ideas on a topic on post-it notes, one idea per note.
  • Each person presents their ideas, sticking them one by one into a board close to similar ideas.
  • The group then works on ordering these ideas more systematically, identifying and naming groups, grouping the ideas in circles, and linking the circles with arrows.

Instead of a written brainstorm, students draw pictures to show what they know about a word, a topic or an idea. They can label their drawings to show more information that they know.

Concept Wall

In pairs or small groups brainstorm key concepts and record their ideas on post-it notes. They place these on a display board, grouping like ideas as they go and rearranging the display as new ideas are posted. Students then suggest possible headings for each group of ideas and reflect on the final chart of ideas.

Connecting with Text

Students record any personal connections on post-it notes while reading or viewing a text. Their personal connections could be about similar experiences, people they know, similar images, links to other texts they have read/viewed or information they recall. Students complete a Connecting with Text chart to record their notes. The chart can be adapted to suit the text type and student cohort. Once students have completed their chart they share with other students, then compare and discuss their connections.

Connecting with Text

This story reminds me of when

This story reminds me of another text

One of the characters
reminds me of


Something I know that helps me understand this story is

Data Chart

As a class or group, students formulate focus questions about the topic or big understanding. These questions form the top row of the chart. Then complete the chart brainstorming information provided by students.

Topic/Question 1

Topic/Question 2

Topic/Question 3

Topic/Question 4

What we know

DOVE Brainstorming

Use the DOVE acronym in brainstorming activities:

Defer judgment – accept all contributions and evaluate later

Opt for original ideas – unusual ideas, lateral thinking

Vast numbers of ideas are best – narrow concepts down later

Expand by association – build on each other’s ideas

Finish the Sentence

Students complete sentences about a topic and demonstrate their prior knowledge or feelings about a topic. The sentence stems can be generated by the teacher or other students. They could complete the sentences verbally, pictorially or in written form.

Give One, Get One

Students fold paper lengthwise to form 2 columns and write “Give One” at the top of the left-hand column and “Get One” at the top of the right-hand column. After brainstorming a list of things they know about the topic and writing their ideas in the left column, they then talk to other students about what is on their lists. Students write the new information in the right column along with the name of the person who gave them the information. Have a whole class discussion on the lists as students again write new information in the right column.

Graffiti Board

In this brainstorming activity students work in groups of three of four to record their ideas on a topic. Place large sheets of paper on a table and write the topic in the middle. Have a different topic or aspect of the topic on each sheet. After recording their ideas, students move to a new table and record their ideas, building on what has already been recording.

Hot Potato

Hot Potato in is an effective brainstorming strategy, ideal for generating lists of new ideas and data in a short period of time. Students are placed in groups of 3-4 with each group being given a different sub-topic relating to a larger overall topic. For example in a hot potato about natural disasters the sub-topics would be earthquakes, volcanoes, cyclones etc. One student acts as a scribe while the rest of the group brainstorms their responses. At a signal from the teacher the groups pass their pieces of paper to the table group on their left. Look at the new sub-topic, the group reads the responses from the previous table, generating and adding more ideas to the new piece of paper. This process is repeated up until each group has looked at each subtopic.

Image Documentary

Using digital photos, create a picture book or a PowerPoint or a slideshow of a familiar place, covering its main features and including titles, introduction, captions and conclusion – as text if a book or PowerPoint, or as script or audio if a slide show. Try to make it a balanced record. Include your likes and dislikes and things that seem positive and negative to you.

Imagine/Elaborate/Predict/Confirm (IEPC)

Provide students with a title of a text and/or topic and ask them to use a visualising strategy to imagine everything they can about it – encourage them to use their senses by imagining feelings, taste, smell, sight and surroundings. Record these in the ‘I’ column. In the ‘E’ column students add more details such as prior experiences, details, anecdotes etc. In the ‘P’ column students record their predictions about the text, including particular words and images that they might expect to appear in the text. After reading the text students confirm their predictions and record how they are different in the ‘C’ column.

Inner/Outer Circles

Students form two circles – one circle within the other- with students facing each other.

Pose a question to the students or make a statement and ask student what they think about it. Allow them some thinking time. One student shares his/her thinking and then the other student build on his/her ideas. Students in one of the circles then move one or more steps to the right or left. The teacher then poses the next question or statement, allowing time for thinking and sharing, before asking one of the circles to move again. Vary the activity by asking students to move and then share what they discussed in the previous rotation with their new partner.

Interests and Passions

Create a collage, PowerPoint presentation or website which describes your favorite interest.

Jigsaw Puzzle

Use the jig-saw puzzle technique for introducing learners to a new body of knowledge. Each member of the group has to provide one part of the jig-saw:

  • Part of a body of knowledge: a smaller topic, theme or subject within the larger topic, theme or subject.
  • A method of investigation: a survey, an interview, a library search, an internet search.
  • A perspective: something that connects with an individual learner’s prior knowledge or interests.

Each student works on their piece of the jig-saw. They then present to the group on their area of expertise, either orally or in writing, and perhaps also using supporting images, video audio.

Either produce a consolidated report of the different student’s work, or get each student to produce a report covering the full ground of the overall topic or theme using the resources produced by the whole group.

Knowledge Journey

Learners keep a record of their learning journey in an A-N-F-L chart. The important starting point is what they already know, asking students to use prior knowledge and connect this with new knowledge.


What do I Already know?

What do I Need to know?

How will I Find out?

What I have Learnt

A K-W-L and K-W-H-L are similar to an ANFL. K-W-L is What I know, what I want to find out and what I have learnt. A K-W-H-L is What I know, what I want to find out, how I will find it out, and what I have learnt. A B-D-A stands for Before-During-After.

Last Word

Individually students write as many words or phrases on a given topic as they can in a limited time. Then in small groups they take turns to share one word or a phrase from their list. If another student in the group has that word, they tick it. If they don’t have the word, they add it to their list. Students continue to share a word each, not repeating any word that has been shared already, until they have finished their list. The last student to share a word is the winner.

Literacy Experiences: Receptive Activities

Learners bring in a written text that is familiar to them or ‘easy’, that they like, that they understand. They show it, talk about it, explain it, discuss it, defend it to their fellow learners.

Multiliteracies Experiences: Receptive Activities

Learners bring in a multimodal text that is familiar to them, such as an image, video, game, sound recording or object. They show it, talk about it, explain it, discuss it, defend it to their fellow learners.

Mystery Boxes or 20 Questions

Collect objects related to the topic being studied. Choose one of the objects and place it in the box. Students must then generate questions to discover what is in the box. The questions may only receive a yes or a no answer. Limit the number of questions to 20 questions. Repeat the process until all the objects have been discovered. Then display them and discuss how they are the same and different and how they relate to the topic. Students could even create their own mystery boxes on a topic.

News Story

Write an illustrated news story of an event in which you have recently been involved. Use the ‘pyramid’ method of writing a news story, in which the whole story is told in the first paragraph, then the story is retold several times, each time at greater length.

Personal Profile

Write a personal profile, as a short bionote for a website, or a curriculum vitae. Include a list of the things you have done, the things you are good at, your interests, and what you would like to be.

Picture Association

Use a picture to generate new ideas, problem solve or generate questions. Choose pictures that are not too closely related to the topic. Words may be used complement pictures or to provoke or enhance discussion.

  • Show pictures or multiple pictures to provoke student engagement.
  • Students write a list of what the picture represents describing the obvious. Alternatively, students can generate questions from the image.
  • Students use the list to generate solutions to the problem or generate new ideas.

Picture Prediction

Collect/draw a series of images related to a narrative or information text. Before reading ask students to predict what the text is about using these images. In groups students can also generate a list of words and/or concepts based on the images. After reading ask students how the images are related to the text. Record this in a reflection.


This activity is designed to allow for each individual’s thinking, perspective and voice to be heard, recognised and explored.

  1. Form participants into groups of four.
  2. Allocate one piece of A3 or butcher’s paper to each group.
  3. Ask each group to draw the diagram on the paper.

  4. The outer spaces are for each participant to write their thoughts about the topic.
  5. Conduct a Round Robin so that each participant can share their views.
  6. The circle in the middle of the paper is to note down (by the nominated scribe) the common points made by each participant.
  7. Each group then reports the common points to the whole group.

A variation is to divide each section into three and include a PMI.

Possible Sentences

Before reading a text, choose some words form the text; the number will depend on the age and ability level of the students. Choose words that are easy, some that are hard and some that provide significant information about the main topic of the text. These can be recorded on sentence strips. Students then individually or in pairs select some of the words to create ‘possible sentences that they predict may occur in the text. Students can read their sentences to a partner. During reading encourage students to watch and listen for the words to determine if their Possible Sentences were accurate. Then after reading the main text, they can check to see how close their sentences are to the original text. They can discuss similarities and differences and create new sentences including any unused words.

Rocket Writing

Students write in silence for a set time and record everything they know about a topic or in response to a text they read, view or listen to. Provide a focus question or a short story, poem, piece of music or visuals. They can select and share a section of their writing with other students or the whole class. This can also be used to assess students’ prior knowledge about a topic.

Round Robin

Round Robin in is an effective brainstorming strategy, ideal for generating lists of new ideas and data in a short period of time. Students are placed in groups of 3-4 and asked to respond to a topic or question, such as “What do you know about…” or “List the features of…” All students are scribes with the paper being passed around the group and students support each other with ideas and spelling. At a signal from the teacher the groups pass their pieces of paper to the table group on their left. After reading the responses from the previous table the group continues to generate and record more ideas on the new piece of paper. This process is repeated up to four more times, at which point the teacher can ask the groups to further explore the ideas by ranking or classifying them.

Another form of Round Robin brainstorming is where students, in groups of 4, add ideas to a topic. At the signal the first student says an idea related to the topic, similar to those suggested above, and each student adds their idea moving around the group one at a time. One student can scribe the ideas or it can be a verbal interactive activity.

Alternatively place sheets of paper around the room with different topics, questions or issues on each one. Students then move around the room in pairs or small groups and add their ideas to each sheet. They can also add reflections or comments on what other students have recorded.

Round Robin Sharing

The round robin sharing strategy is an effective tool for sharing a whole class brainstorm. This is a competitive but collaborative strategy in which students must work as a team and listen carefully to each other’s responses. Students are placed in groups of 3-4 and asked to respond to a topic or question, such as “what do you know about…” or “list the features of…” One student acts as a scribe while the rest of the group brainstorms their responses. The groups then share their ideas with the larger group, on group by group basis. Students must listen carefully to what the other groups have said as no idea may be repeated.

Spider Map

The Spider Map can be used as a planning or brainstorming tool. Students place the central theme or idea in the middle circle and then list a main idea along one of the spider’s legs. This idea is then further teased out in the section at the end of the appropriate leg.

Stand and Share

Groups discuss or brainstorm a topic until each team member has at least one, different idea to share. They all stand to show they are ready to participate in a whole group sharing. When all teams are standing, one student is asked to share an idea. After the student shares, students with the same or a very similar idea sit down. This procedure is repeated until all ideas have been collected and all students are seated.

‘Stream of Consciousness’ Recollection

A ‘dump’ of thoughts, scenes and memories in no particular order other than the order in which they happen to spring to mind. This is a way of listening to yourself and making connections between different things in your everyday life. Decide on a starting point, then make an instant connection, then a connection to this connection. Then only connections between one point and the next … see how far you wander off your starting point.


Attempt to tackle a new question or problem by silent thinking, comparison with another learner’s attempt to answer the same question, and share this dialogue with other learners.

  • Think: Take a few minutes to think in silence about a new idea or a difficult question. Make mental or written notes.
  • Pair: Talk about your thoughts with a neighbor or partner. Compare notes: What are the most original, most convincing or most accurate ideas?
  • Share: Present the best ideas of the pair to the group or class.

Adaptations of this strategy include Think-Write-Pair Share and Timed-Pair-Share.


Follow the same procedure as a Think-Pair-Share. After sharing in pairs, the pair of students find another pair and share their ideas with them before sharing with the whole class.

Think, Wink, Decide

This activity helps students to generate questions or statements about a topic. Students fold an A4 piece of paper in half to form a booklet. On the front page they write the topic. On page 2, they write ‘Think – Things I now know’ and they record what they already know and think about the topic. On page 3, they write ‘Wink –What I need to know’ and record questions about the topic. On the back page they write ‘Decide’. Here they select two questions to share with the class. Encourage talk in pairs or small groups to scaffold thinking.

Three Step Interview

This strategy is a three step process and whilst it works more effectively in groups of four it can also be modified for use with smaller or larger groups of students.

  • Step 1: Students work in pairs (one interviewer and one interviewee)
  • Step 2: Roles are reversed by the students.
  • Step 3: As a class a round robin activity is completed. Each student takes turns sharing with a group what they learnt during the interview process.
    The interview topic can be broad and discuss anything that is relevant to the learning. One effective use of the strategy can be to ask students to draw upon their own personal experiences as they relate to this topic. This strategy supports students as they draw upon their own knowledge which can act as a catalyst for further discussion on the current learning area or branch off into another relevant topic.

Tournament Prioritising

Students work with the results of a round robin brainstorm and plot the points on the Tournament Prioritising sheet.

  • Give each group a Tournament Prioritising sheet. The item seeded at the top of the round robin page must be seeded at No 1, the second item at No 24, the third item at No 2, the fourth at No 23, the fifth at No 3 and so on.
  • In the same groups, decide on which items will be eliminated, and advance each ‘winner’ to the next round and continue until each group can rank their items. Encourage students to make active decisions about why to keep one item and eliminate another. At some stage it would be valuable to stop your students and ask them to explain the process of elimination and justify their decisions.
  • At the end of the activity lead a discussion about why the ‘winners’ should form the basis of the class understanding.

Values Lines

In a values line students consider their thinking and feelings about an issue or topic and choose a place to stand on a line. The line will reflect two extremes of thinking and attitudes towards a topic. For example after reading a story, they might choose one side of the values line if they thought the main character was a hero or the other side of the line if they thought he was a villain or somewhere in between. On a topic such as sustainability, they might show their opinions about deforestation versus forest protection. In the visual and performing arts, students might explore two artworks. After studying a topic, students can revisit the values line and discuss whether they have changed their position and why.

Word Splash

Word Splash provides a useful framework for eliciting student prior knowledge before reading. Word Splash encourages and develops prediction skills , sets the scene, is designed to develop a sense of discovery, explores connections and speculates on possibilities, focuses in on topic or issue, is a useful tool for group/pair sharing, and can be designed to support underperforming students.

  1. Read through the text.
  2. Decide on key words, phrases and concepts in the text that will provide cues for your students or that may need clarification.
  3. Type or write and copy for individual students or small groups.
  4. Once distributed allow students a few minutes to read through and discuss with others the listed words and phrases. They may ask others for clarification or elaboration of some items. Allow them to make predictions about the text in their groups.
  5. Bring students back together and ask them for their predictions, encouraging all students to contribute.

A rich assortment of predictions will be offered. Some predictions may be challenged. Teachers may ask questions such as, ‘What made you think of…..?’ The purpose of prompting questions is to encourage students to interact both to share and to extend their understandings of what the text may be about. After reading they can compare and contrast their predictions and write a reflection on this.

Word Wall

Students create a poster or wall display in which they display all the vocabulary that they know in relation to a topic. The teacher may also add words to give students exposure to words they might encounter in a new text. Students can illustrate the words of find photos or pictures in magazines to represent the words. The word wall can be continuously added to throughout a topic with students taking an active role in contributing to it and sorting words. The word wall can also become part of the print environment of the classroom and used to refer to for spelling.

World Café

A series of cafés or tables are set up around the room. At each café is large piece of paper and a different coloured marker. Each café is assigned a topic, question or focus. The group is divided amongst the café’s and one person per café is designated as the owner. It is their job to stay at the café the whole time. Each group is given a period of time (5 to 10 minutes) to respond to the question or topic with their coloured marker. At the signal groups move on, with their coloured marker, to the next café. The café owner stays behind getting ready to share the responses with the next group of customers.

At the beginning of the second rotation the café owner takes their new group through the topic and the responses of the initial group. This group then adds their own thoughts or responses, in their colour, to that of the first. This process continues for as many rotations as can be fitted in or until the guests arrive back at their original café. It is interesting for this group to look at all subsequent responses and discuss this with the café owner. Finally the leader may want to elicit some reflections from the group.

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