Here’s another straightforward technique from Angelo and Cross’s Classroom Assessment Techniques: what they call the “Background Knowledge Probe.” Whenever beginning a new topic or working on a new task, ask students to list, in groups, or as a class, everything they know about about the topic or task. You might have the students do this in writing, or have them call out answers for you to add to a master list on the board.
After gathering everything the students know, think they know, possibly know, etc., begin the work, as a class or in student groups, of sharing and organizing the information. What is accurate and what is not? What is important and what is not? What is commonly known about the topic and what do only one or two students know? This can work really well as a discussion that begins in groups and then expands to the whole class.
The technique allows students to discover that they already have knowledge of the subject, encourages them to share their knowledge and grow as a learning community, and provides a natural way for you to begin your discussion or presentation of the topic at hand. -DG
Source: Thomas A. Angelo and K. Patricia Cross. Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1993. 121-24.