This sample passage illustrates how Background Knowledge and Vocabulary can affect comprehension.
Individual vocabulary words and figurative language are in bold.
These are gentler mountains unlike the glistening forbidding peaks of western and Pacific ranges. Cloaked in foliage, they are clearly identified as a family of mountains, one that ranges the state – the Green Mountains. Streams that traverse the sloping peaks gather into cascading stony rivers that are a joy to trout fishermen and to children who swing from ropes tied to covered bridges into the natural pools below, or splay themselves on inner tubes to be carried downstream on the slowly moving current. Nature can be hospitable here.
The word picture above can be visualized if a reader is familiar with the vocabulary. It can be appreciated even if a reader has little information, but prior experience and/or knowledge would enhance this written image, for example, the following:
- Comparison: There are variations in appearance, composition, and height of mountain ranges in the U.S.
- Extended insight: The altitude of a mountain determines the type and amount of plant growth possible. The higher the mountain, the less plant growth. Therefore, from the description above it can be assumed that there are few towering peaks in the Green Mountain range.
- Added information: Covered bridges were built over streams in the days of horse and buggy to afford protection to the riders. Many of the bridges are still in use today and are treasured landmarks of bygone days. Most are in Vermont, but they also are found in other New England states.
- Added information: The state is Vermont. It was named by the French who settled in the area in the 17th century and gave the land the name, Les verts monts (the green mountains), which became Verts Mont and finally, Vermont.
There is rich opportunity for vocabulary study with the bolded words and figurative language in the passage.
- useful words that can be found in many contexts: range, glisten, forbid(ding), peaks, family, cascade
- words to know: foliage, sloping, traverse, splay, hospitable
- figurative language: gentler mountains, forbidding peaks, streams... gather, cloaked in foliage