On The Run Icon

Thinking about your life
Instructions for students on using prior knowledge questions

Compare your life & John's
Jump to: 1 . 2 . 3

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, don’t 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.

Let’s practice activating your prior knowledge. Here are the very first paragraphs of the story. Read them and then look at the questions that follow:

Jump to: Top . 2 . 3

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 new town?
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 John’s 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) John’s 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, don’t you? Now let’s 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 John’s life. Read the passage, then look at the question that follows.

Jump to: Top . 1 . 3

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 dime.

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 John’s 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.

Let’s try one more example. The following paragraph tells about the thoughts that John’s mother has about a decision she needs to make in order to help her family.

Jump to: Top . 1 . 2

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 it’s 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 John’s mother id facing. Try to remember a time when you weren’t 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 John’s 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? That’s 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.



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Last updated: May 9, 2002