I read an article. But I have one difficult sentence to understand by myself.

That is "It is important to help students activate prior knowledge so they can build on it productively."

I couldn't understand it. What is the meaning of "build on"?

  • 1
    build on something: To use something as a basis or foundation on which to develop something else: The company built its hiring policy on the principle of fairness. The efficiency of our department is built on hard work. idioms.thefreedictionary.com/build+on
    – user66974
    Jul 10, 2015 at 3:27
  • I got it. thanks you. In fact, I already found the dictionary, but I couldn't understand. However, I read what you wrote once again. I think I am understand. thank you
    – Young
    Jul 10, 2015 at 3:31

1 Answer 1


Analogies of construction are common when speaking of education. For example:

It is important to begin a new academic program with a firm foundation, that is, a firm understanding of the fundamentals.

Fundamentals comes from the latin fundare, as does foundation. This foundation is, of course, the material that the student has learned earlier, either through instruction or experience.

When one learns additional material in an academic program, therefore, one builds on the foundation.

Having said all that, I am compelled to add that the sentence would cause me to approach the article with great skepticism. I am particularly wary of activate prior knowledge, which could almost certainly be phrased in a more meaningful way, but build on it productively also gives me pause. What exactly does productively add to the sentence?

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