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UDL Guidelines - Version 2.0: Research Evidence

Checkpoint 3.1: Activate or supply background knowledge

I. Provide Multiple Means of Representation



Learning can be cognitively inaccessible when it requires specific background knowledge for assimilation, and where there are no options for individuals who differ in their access to that background knowledge. Those barriers can be reduced when options are available that supply or activate relevant prior knowledge, or link to the pre-requisite information elsewhere.  The experimental and quantitative evidence listed here suggest the effectiveness of strategies such as anchored instruction, advanced organizers, analogies, and metaphors to activate students’ background knowledge. The scholarly reviews and expert opinions provide a more classroom based perspective on many of the same strategies listed in the experimental evidence section. 

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Experimental and Quantitative Evidence:

Alvermann, D. E., Smith, L. C., & Readence, J. E. (1985). Prior knowledge activation and the comprehension of compatible and incompatible text. Reading Research Quarterly, 20(4), 420-436.

Bottge, B. A., Rueda, E., Serlin, R. C., & Hung, Y. H. (2007). Shrinking achievement differences with anchored math problems: Challenges and possibilities. The Journal of Special Education, 41(1), 31-49.

Carr, S. C., & Thompson, B. (1996). The effects of prior knowledge and schema activation strategies on the inferential reading comprehension of children with and without learning disabilities. Learning Disability Quarterly, 19(1), 48-61.

Davis, S. J., & Winek, J. (1989). Improving expository writing by increasing background knowledge. Journal of Reading, 33(3), 178-181.

Dochy, F., Segers, M., & Buehl, M. M. (1999). The relation between assessment practices and outcomes of studies: The case of research on prior knowledge. Review of Educational Research, 69(2), 145.

Dole, J. A., Valencia, S. W., Greer, E. A., & Wardrop, J. L. (1991). Effects of two types of prereading instruction on the comprehension of narrative and expository text. Reading Research Quarterly, 26(2), 142-159.

Fuchs, L. S., Fuchs, D., Karns, K., Hamlett, C. L., Dutka, S., & Katzaroff, M. (2000). The importance of providing background information on the structure and scoring of performance assessments. Applied Measurement in Education, 13(1), 1-34.

Gersten, R. (1998). Recent advances in instructional research for students with learning disabilities: An overview. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, 13(3), 162-170.

Langone, J., Malone, D. M., & Clinton, G. N. (1999). The effects of technology-enhanced anchored instruction on the knowledge of preservice special educators. Teacher Education and Special Education, 22(2), 85-96.

Lott, G. W. (1983). The effect of inquiry teaching and advance organizers upon student outcomes in science education. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 20(5), 437-451.

Luiten, J., Ames, W., & Ackerson, G. (1980). A meta-analysis of the effects of advance organizers on learning and retention. American Educational Research Journal, 17(2), 211-218.

Rieth, H. J., Bryant, D. P., Kinzer, C. K., Colburn, L. K., Hur, S. J., & Hartman, P. (2003). An analysis of the impact of anchored instruction on teaching and learning activities in two ninth-grade language arts classes. Remedial and Special Education, 24(3), 173-184.

Schwartz, N. H., Stroud, M., Hong, N. S., Lee, T., Scott, B., & McGee, S. M. (2006). Summoning prior knowledge: The influence of metaphorical priming on learning in a hypermedia environment. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 35(1), 1-30.

Serafino, K., & Cicchelli, T. (2003). Cognitive theories, prior knowledge, and anchored instruction on mathematical problem solving and transfer. Education and Urban Society, 36(1), 79-93.

Seufert, T. (2003). Supporting coherence formation in learning from multiple representations. Learning & Instruction, 13(2), 227-237.

Shin, E. C., Schallert, D. L., & Savenye, W. C. (1994). Effects of learner control, advisement, and prior knowledge on young students' learning in a hypertext environment. Educational Technology Research and Development, 42(1), 33-46.

Shyu, H. Y. (1997). Anchored instruction for Chinese students: Enhancing attitudes toward mathematics. International Journal of Instructional Media, 24(1), 55-62.

Shyu, H. Y. (1999). Effects of media attributes in anchored instruction. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 21(2), 119-139.

Spires, H. A., & Donley, J. (1998). Prior knowledge activation: Inducing engagement with informational texts. Journal of Educational Psychology, 90(2), 249-260.

Stone, C. L. (1983). A meta-analysis of advance organizer studies. Journal of Experimental Education, 51(7), 194-199.

Woloshyn, V., Paivio, A., & Pressley, M. (1994). Use of elaborative interrogation to help students acquire information consistent with prior knowledge and information inconsistent with prior knowledge. Journal of Educational Psychology, 86, 79-89.

Scholarly reviews and expert opinions:

Bean, T. W. (1995). Strategies for enhancing text comprehension in middle school. Reading & Writing Quarterly, 11(2), 163-171.

Bransford, J. D., Sherwood, R. D., Hasselbring, T. S., Kinzer, C. K., & Williams, S. M. (1990). Anchored instruction: Why we need it and how technology can help. In D. Nix & R. Sprio (Eds.), Cognition, education and multimedia (pp. 115-141). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum Associates.

Bulgren, J. A., Schumaker, J. B., & Deshler, D. D. (1994). The concept anchoring routine. Lawrence, Kansas: Edge Enterprises, Inc.

Bulgren, J. A., Schumaker, J. B., & Deshler, D. D. (1998). The concept mastery routine. Lawrence, Kansas: Edge Enterprises, Inc.

Burke, M. D., Hagan, S. L., & Grossen, B. (1998). What curricular designs and strategies accommodate diverse learners?. Teaching Exceptional Children, 31(2), 34-38.

Carr, E., & Ogle, D. (1987). KWL plus: A strategy for comprehension and summarization. Journal of Reading, 30(7), 626-631.

Deshler, D., Schumaker, J., Bulgren, J., Lenz, K., Jantzen, J., Adams, G., et al. (2001). Making learning easier: Connecting new knowledge to things students already know. Teaching Exceptional Children, 33(4), 82-85.

Dochy, F. J. R. C., & Alexander, P. A. (1995). Mapping prior knowledge: A framework for discussion among researchers. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 10(3), 225-242.

Hall, T. E. (2002). Explicit instruction. Wakefield, MA: National Center on Accessing the General Curriculum. Retrieved on June 3, 2009, from

Kameenui, E. J., & Carnine, D. W. (1998). Effective teaching strategies that accommodate diverse learners. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill.

Kinzer, C. K., Gabella, M. S., & Rieth, H. J. (1994). An argument for using multimedia and anchored instruction to facilitate mildly disabled students' learning of literacy and social studies. Technology and Disability, 3(2), 117-128.

Marzano, R. J. (2004). Building background knowledge for academic achievement. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Marzano, R. J. (2007). The art and science of teaching. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Pisha, B., & Coyne, P. (2001). Smart from the start: The promise of universal design for learning. Remedial and Special Education, 22(4), 197-203.

Pressley, M., Johnson, C. J., Symons, S., McGoldrick, J. A., & Kurita, J. A. (1989). Strategies that improve children's memory and comprehension of text. The Elementary School Journal, 90(1), 3-32.

Pressley, M., Yokoi, L., Rankin, J., Wharton-McDonald, R., & Mistretta, J. (1997). A survey of the instructional practices of grade 5 teachers nominated as effective in promoting literacy. Scientific Studies of Reading, 1(2), 145-160.

Rose, D. H., & Dalton, B. (2002). Using technology to individualize reading instruction. In C. C. Block, L. B. Gambrell & M. Pressley (Eds.), Improving comprehension instruction: Rethinking research, theory, and classroom practice (pp. 257-274). San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass Publishers.

Schumaker, J. B., Deshler, D. D., Zemitzsch, A., & Warner, M. W. (1993). The visual imagery strategy. Lawrence, KS: The University of Kansas.

Strangman, N., & Hall, T. E. (2004). Background knowledge. Wakefield, MA: National Center on Accessing the General Curriculum. Retrieved on June 3, 2009, from

Strangman, N., Hall, T. E. & Meyer, A. (2004). Background knowledge instruction and the implications for UDL implementation. Wakefield, MA: National Center on Accessing the General Curriculum. Retrieved on June 3, 2009, from

Tanner, K., & Allen, D. (2005). Approaches to biology teaching and learning: Understanding the wrong answers - teaching toward conceptual change. Cell Biology Education, 4(2), 112-117.

The Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt. (1990). Anchored instruction and its relationship to situated cognition. Educational Researcher, 19(6), 2-10.

The Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt. (1993). Anchored instruction and its relationship to situated cognition revisited. Educational Researcher, 33(3), 52-70.

Xin, F. (1996). Multimedia reading: Using anchored instruction and video technology in vocabulary lessons. Teaching Exceptional Children, 29(2), 45-49.

Last Updated: 03/10/2011

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