Think Outside the Book: Create Context With Reading Treks

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Explore and create : Creation lab

Stephanie Bass  
Dr. Ruth Okoye  
Karen Streeter  

Background knowledge or context is, tragically, often a missing piece of the reading comprehension puzzle. Learn to use mapping software to build a resource that helps to fill in the missing pieces. See finished examples and then get help making your own. Make learning a journey with Reading Treks.

Audience: Coaches, Curriculum/district specialists, Teachers
Skill level: Beginner
Attendee devices: Devices required
Attendee device specification: Laptop: Chromebook, Mac, PC
Participant accounts, software and other materials: Participants should have a Google account - a free one is fine, it doesn't have to be issued by the school.
Topic: Storytelling/multimedia
Grade level: PK-12
Subject area: Language arts, Social studies
ISTE Standards: For Educators:
  • Model for colleagues the identification, exploration, evaluation, curation and adoption of new digital resources and tools for learning.
  • Use technology to create, adapt and personalize learning experiences that foster independent learning and accommodate learner differences and needs.

Proposal summary

Purpose & objective

Readers constantly draw on their background knowledge to understand a story. Many students do not have background knowledge that informs them of the time period, geographic area or customs of the characters in the books they read. This lack of information increases the difficulty when students are asked to summarize, infer or predict from the text. The purpose of this session is to share an active learning instructional strategy that allows the teachers to facilitate instruction while building background knowledge and increasing student independence.

Using mapping software, teachers can create a Reading Trek - a map that travels along with the story providing the missing context. Coupled with instructional activities, Reading Treks can be used for individual students or groups in remote/blending/face-to-face settings. We will look at a few example Reading Treks and corresponding activities then review how they can be used with students. We will cover how to choose an appropriate text that will work with the Reading Trek strategy, next we will walk through how to find copyright-friendly media to include in a trek, and finally we will work on assembling the trek and assigning student activities.


[5 min] Introductions
[5 min] What is a Reading Trek? (follow-along demonstration)
[5 min] Integrating a Reading Trek into your lesson (discussion)
[15 min] Choosing your materials - books and media (follow-along demonstration)
[20 min] Assembling the Trek (follow along demonstration)
[10 min] Cross-curricular Connections
[15 min] Create activity questions (digital corkboard large group brainstorming)
[5 min] Process Reflection
[5 min] Q & A

Supporting research

Ilter, I. (2019). The Efficacy of Context Clue Strategy Instruction on Middle Grades Students’ Vocabulary Development. RMLE Online, 42(1), 1-15. doi:10.1080/19404476.2018.1554522
Knight, J. A. (2013). Background knowledge, curriculum, and socioeconomic status: What do second-grade readers know about topics in core reading programs (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Michigan State University.
Marzano, R. J. (2004). Building background knowledge for academic achievement: Research on what works in schools. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Price, Kena (2010) "Teaching Reading Comprehension to Children of Poverty," Academic Leadership: The Online Journal: Vol. 8 : Iss. 3 , Article 42. Available at:
Sedita, J. (2018, May 22). Background Knowledge and Reading Comprehension. Retrieved October 03, 2020, from
Wexler, N. (2020, May 18). Why American Students Haven't Gotten Better at Reading in 20 Years. Retrieved October 03, 2020, from

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Stephanie Bass, Portsmouth Public Schools
Dr. Ruth Okoye, The Source for Learning
ISTE Certified Educator
Karen Streeter, The Source for Learning
ISTE Certified Educator

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