A core principle of backward design is to design your course around the outcomes. How will taking your course change what students can know and do? You can invite students to take this perspective as well.
Have students generate questions exploring what they know (or think they know) and don’t know about course topics as part of your opening day activities. Not only can these questions help you assess the level of background knowledge, they can be referenced throughout the semester as you cover material that responds to them. On the last day of class, redistribute the questions and have student groups answer them. This can help serve as a review and just as importantly, give students a deeper view of their progress over the semester.