Reading and Writing

, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 131–149 | Cite as

How prior knowledge affects word identification and comprehension

  • Sarah J. Priebe
  • Janice M. Keenan
  • Amanda C. Miller


While prior knowledge of a passage topic is known to facilitate comprehension, little is known about how it affects word identification. We examined oral reading errors in good and poor readers when reading a passage where they either had prior knowledge of the passage topic or did not. Children who had prior knowledge of the topic were matched on decoding skill to children who did not know the topic so that the groups differed only on knowledge of the passage topic. Prior knowledge of the passage topic was found to significantly increase fluency and reduce reading errors, especially errors based on graphic information, in poor readers. Two possible mechanisms of how prior knowledge might operate to facilitate word identification were evaluated using the pattern of error types, as was the relationship of errors to comprehension. Implications of knowledge effects for assessment and educational policy are discussed.


Word identification Comprehension Prior knowledge Error analysis 



This research was supported by a grant from NIH HD27802 to the Colorado Learning Disabilities Center, for which J. Keenan is a co-PI. These data were presented at the 2008 and 2009 meetings of the Society for the Scientific Study of Reading. We thank Richard K. Olson, Rebecca Betjemann, Laura Roth, Chelsea Meenan, and Anh Hua for discussions of the data, all the participants and their families, and all the testers and scorers.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sarah J. Priebe
    • 1
  • Janice M. Keenan
    • 1
  • Amanda C. Miller
    • 1
  1. 1.University of DenverDenverUSA

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