Compare your life & John's
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Have you ever read a story that
reminded you of something that happened in your own life? Or maybe you
read about a character who reminded you of someone you knew. Finding similarities
between what you are reading and your own experiences in life is called
activating prior knowledge (prior means before, so prior knowledge is
what you already knew before you started reading the story). It can help
you better understand the story you are reading. By finding connections
between your life and and the lives of the people you are reading about,
you can more easily understand what those people do and why.
As you read On The Run you will notice that there
are a number of questions to the left of the main part of the story. These
questions will ask you to think about your experiences and how they might
be similar to (or different from) what you are reading about. When you
come to these questions pause for a few seconds and think about what you
are being asked. Maybe you had a problem similar to one that John is having.
What did you do to solve that problem? Maybe you have met someone similar
to one of the characters John meets in this story. What did you think
of that person? You only need to spend a few seconds thinking about each
question (after all, you want to get back to the story and find out what
happens to John, dont you?). Your teacher may have other ideas of
how you can use these questions to help make your reading a better learning
experience for you.
Remember, by activating your prior knowledge you may find
that you not only understand the story better, but you might also discover
that you have a better understanding of the people and events in your
own life. After all, every one of us has a story to tell.
Lets practice activating your prior knowledge. Here
are the very first paragraphs of the story. Read them and then look at
the questions that follow:
The steel door clangs shut. The guard doesn't get close
enough to touch me, but he stays right behind my back. On one side are
windows so high up I can't see out. Doors line the other side. I keep
thinking about what my mom said at the hearing. "It's a dangerous
place. A dangerous place."
"Intake area," the guard says. "This's where they do tests.
Medical, teeth. See if you can read." He slows down. "These
are offices the POs use. Yours'll get to you in a day or two." He
waits to see if I'll ask, but like the deputy who drove me here from Wheatland
told me, I keep my mouth shut. Every time I open it, I get in deeper.
"PO's a parole officer," he goes on, explaining anyway. "They
got the say. Don't forget it."
When we get to the end of the hall, he reaches past me and pushes a button
on the wall. A buzzer goes off and he pulls the door open. "Move
on through." He puts his hand on my shoulder and I jerk away. "Cool
down, kid. That won't earn you Brownie points here."
My feet are heavy, hardly able to move, like when my work boots get stuck
in the mud out in the pasture after a heavy rain, rain that comes all
at once instead of regular like we need it.
"I'm coming, I'm coming."
"Watch how you talk. That'll get you in trouble."
"Like I'm not already in trouble."
"What'd you expect? It's no fancy girls' school here, you know."
No fancy boys' school either, no matter that the sign out front says Fire
Oak School for Boys, State of Oregon. Everybody knows it's a jail, only
this one's for kids.
Have you ever had to go to a new school or move to a
What was it like for you?
Is there anything in this chapter that reminds you of that experience?
Think about the questions. We have all found ourselves
in situations where we were strangers. Maybe it was the first
day at a new school, or a summer camp. Maybe your family has moved to
a new neighborhood or began attending a new church. Try to remember a
time when you were the new kid. How did it feel? Were you
afraid? What did you have trouble understanding? What were some things
you felt you needed to know to make the situation better? As you think
about these questions try to put yourself in Johns shoes. Try to
remember the feelings you went through when you found yourself in a strange
new place. Maybe you remember the sights, the sounds, the smells. Maybe
you remember all those new faces that you had never seen before. Think
about it for a few seconds and try to use your experience to make a picture
in your mind of what John must be going through. You do not need to spend
a lot of time on these questions. Just stop for a few seconds and think
about the question and how your own experience may be similar to (or different
from) Johns situation. Remember, only spend a few seconds on this.
After all, you do want to get back to the story and find out what happens,
dont you? Now lets try another example. In the paragraph that
follows John meets McGill for the first time. McGill is an adult who will
turn out to be very important in Johns life. Read the passage, then
look at the question that follows.
McGill stands up behind his desk. I tip my head back
and look at the tallest, darkest black man I've ever seen. I gotta admit
I expected somebody fat and forty and white for sure. I look him over.
There isn't anybody like McGill out around the ranch or in Wheatland.
Maybe not even in The Dalles. He's like one of those guys in the magazine
ads for whiskey or men's clothes. He's got on a navy blue jacket, a white
shirt, red tie and gray pants. His gold ring has an M on it, big as a
Did you ever meet someone
who turned out to be completely
different from what you expected?
Think about it. Maybe you were going to a new school and
you had heard about one of the teachers, only to find out that the teacher
was not like what others had told you. maybe you heard a new kid was moving
to your neighborhood and you had a mental picture of this
kid. When you actually met the kid you realized your mental picture was
all wrong. Think of how you felt at the moment you realized the person
was different from what you expected. As you think about this try to put
yourself in Johns place again. Remember what the experience was
like for you and try to feel what John must be feeling at this moment.
Remember, only spend a few seconds on this.
Lets try one more example. The following paragraph
tells about the thoughts that Johns mother has about a decision
she needs to make in order to help her family.
Truth is, I think Mom's scared to make the big move.
She told me why one night. "You don't know what it's like, John,
being responsible for a whole family. Even if I find a job that would
support us, I could get laid off. Then what would we do? This way, if
your dad doesn't send us any money for months on end, at least we've got
a place here on the ranch and food to eat."
Have you ever had to do something that you thought
was a good thing to do, but you were afraid to do it?
Do you think its better to always play it safe or to
take a chance once in a while?
We have all had to make decisions. we do it every day. maybe
you have had to make some choices that were not very easy to make. You
felt that you knew the right choice to make, but for some reason you were
afraid to make the choice. This is what Johns mother id facing.
Try to remember a time when you werent sure about doing the right
thing. Think about a time when you had to take a chance and do the right
thing. How did things turn out? If you could do it all over what would
you do this time? As you think about these things try to imagine what
Johns mother must be feeling as she thinks about what choice to
make. Remember your thoughts, your fears, and try to think of the mother
experiencing the same thing. And how much time are you going to spend
on this? Thats right, just a few seconds.
Now that you have practiced activating your prior knowledge,
you can begin reading the story. there will be questions like the ones
we practiced with here all through the story (you will find them to the
left of the main part of the story). Sometimes the question may not apply
to you. If that happens just keep reading. Other questions will ask you
about what you would do if you found yourself in a certain situation.
Think about it for a few seconds. think about what you would say to John
if he were a friend of yours. Remember, the whole idea behind these questions
is to put yourself into the story, to try to see things through the eyes
of the characters. Hopefully this will not only make the story easier
for you to understand and remember, but will also make it more fun and
interesting to read. Maybe you will find that your life is just as interesting
as the lives of the people you read about. remember, just like everyone
else in the world, you have your own story to tell.