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Flash cards to spelling bees: Tips and tricks to help students learn
Studies show the evening is the best time to study, chewing gum can improve students’ math scores and background music can actually hinder study sessions. We know there is no shortage of tips and tricks individuals use to help boost learning, comprehension and recall, so we thought we would share three of our favourites:The rule of seven (plus or minus two)
Also referred to as “chunking,” this learning trick is founded in psychology. The concept is that the brain’s short-term memory can hold about seven “pieces” of information at one time, so chunking learning into sets of seven makes for easier short-term recall and more efficient processing into the long-term memory. For example, the number 9205557286 is difficult to remember as a string, but breaking the numbers into chunks improves retention and becomes a phone number (920) 555-7286. The more challenging the material, the smaller the chunks should be (thus the plus or minus two enters the equation).
Here’s how this learning technique can be put into practice:

  • When creating class presentations, limit the number of bullet points to seven. Use even fewer if the information is complex.
  • Increase reading comprehension for students just beginning to read, or those reading advanced literature, by working together to break complex sentences into short phrases or sets of words (usually three to five chunks). Students can write out the new phrases in a notebook, which can then be used as a study guide. Or, hand out highlighters imprinted with your school logo and the words “Learning Tool” and ask students to highlight key phrases, drawing attention to important words. This method eliminates word-by-word reading and makes concepts more digestible.
  • Before a test, suggest that students chunk the study material into categories (no more than nine). Think about it like the layout of a book, the main categories are the chapters and the sub-categories are the sub-headings. Help students keep study notes organized by handing out sticky notes personal organizer packs or bookmarks to help tab, index or colour-code chunks of information.

Visual learning
The dual-coding theory also includes the concept of chunking, but goes further, suggesting that visual information can be associated with each piece of verbal information. For example, when you hear the word “flower,” you likely think of both the context of the word and picture a delicate floral blossom. Other applications include:

  • Create class presentation boards that provide both visual and verbal information.
  • If you are teaching vocabulary, create flash cards for your students; replace the word on the front side with an image associated with the word. Another way to strike up visual cues: Plaster your classroom with Post-it® notes bearing the spelling of each item.
  • Keep parents up-to-date on learning tips and tricks used in the classroom by sending home a set of refrigerator magnets, each magnet featuring a different learning tip and a visual illustration of the example.

Chaining is a great technique for remembering lists or other chains of information. Begin with a list of words (try applying the rule of sevens) and ask your students to make up a story using those words. Here is an example of chaining used to remember paintings for an upcoming art history test:

  • Starry Night
  • Vincent van Gogh
  • Painted in 1889
  • Located in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City

The list becomes a story: Painter van Gogh set to dine one Starry Night in 1889 in the modern city of New York.

You can also do this exercise with fellow educators to remind them of the importance of learning tips and tricks in the classroom. Reinforce the message by handing out key chains, imprinted with a clever chain of information.

Whether you prefer chunking, chaining or coding, you can introduce your students and fellow educators to the wonderful world of learning tips and tricks. There is bound to be one that is just right for your students.

University of Adelaide. “Brains Learn Better At Night.” ScienceDaily, 22 Aug. 2007. Web. 1 Sep. 2011.

“Chewing Gum Raises Kids’ Math Scores | Booster Shots | Los Angeles Times.” Latimesblogs.com. Los Angeles Times Health, 22 Apr. 2009. Web. 01 Sept. 2011.

Applied Cognitive Psychology. Background Music Can Impair Performance, Cites New Study. Wiley: Home. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 27 July 2010. Web. 23 Aug. 2011.

Chen, Elaine Huei-Lien. “A Review of Learning Theories from Visual Literacy.” Journal of Educational Computing, Design & Online Learning 5 (Fall 2004). Web. 23 Aug. 2011.

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