The official website of educator Jack C Richards

Role of Schema


Submitted by Satoshi, Japan

What role do schema play in language learning?

Dr. Richards responds:

The notion of schemas  refers to cognitive aspects of learning. Schemas are mental models, or frameworks, which organize information in the mind and represent generalized knowledge about events, situations, objects, actions and feelings. They are part of prior knowledge that learners bring to new experience. For example, the schema of ‘the evening meal’, for some people, will consist of information about the time of the meal, where it takes place, the sequence of activities involved, the food items eaten and utensils used, and the participants and their roles and actions. Such a schema may differ considerably from one culture to another and may need to be revised as new experience is encountered.

Schema theory has had a significant influence on our understanding of the nature of listening comprehension and reading in a second language, and on approaches to teaching both of these skills. It has emphasized the role of prior knowledge in comprehension, and the importance of pre-listening and pre-reading activities in preparing students to understand spoken and written texts. Teaching schemas involves helping students develop the interconnected meanings and relationships that make up schemas, and an understanding of the hierarchies of meanings and connections that underlie many concepts. The role of prior knowledge in learning is a core feature of constructivist theories of learning – one kind of cognitive approach to learning. Constructivist theory emphasizes that new learning is built upon existing knowledge and understanding. In second language learning, the process that results when new learning builds on existing knowledge is known as restructuring.