Prior Knowledge and Personal Association Surveys

Word Work
Grade Level


These surveys ask students what they know or how they feel about specific words in the text they are reading.


Before reading


This strategy helps you select what words to teach by gauging students’ prior knowledge. This allows you to plan, prioritize and differentiate to maximize the impact of vocabulary instruction. Surveys also allow students to preview the words they need to know.

Use survey results to decide which words need more attention or which students need to focus on different words. The surveys can reveal valuable information about student attitudes and assumptions related to certain words; this strategy supports the critical practice of knowing students deeply.


Choose your vocabulary words and insert them into one of the suggested formats. Assign as class work or homework.

English language learners

This strategy is appropriate for intermediate English language learners (level three or above).

Connection to anti-bias education

This strategy helps teachers know their students, a cornerstone of culturally responsive instruction. It can also help transmit these important messages:

  • It’s okay to not know things or to know different things than your classmates.
  • I will meet you where you are in your learning.
  • Learning happens on a continuum.
Abolitionists William Still, Sojourner Truth, William Loyd Garrison, unidentified male and female slaves, and Black Union soldiers in front of American flag

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