AlphaBoxes, created by Linda Hoyt,  is a strategy that can be used in many ways.  It can be used before, during, or after studying a topic.  If students are asked to brainstorm words they know about the topic before they begin to study it, this will activate prior knowledge and serve as a formative assessment for the teacher. 

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Websites for AlphaBoxes:

AlphaBoxes - PDF


A Collection of Easily-Adaptable Best Practices

Activating Prior Knowledge
Vocabulary Development
Comprehension Strategies
Summarization Techniques
Writing Across the Curriculum
Getting to Know Students
Technology Tools