5 Ways To Make Knowledge Stick

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How can you prepare students for their exams?

Why do students forget? And what can we do to help them remember? As exam season looms, these questions are likely at the forefront of many teachers’ minds. 

In his blog, ‘Deliberately difficult – why it’s better to make learning harder‘, David Didau asks which of these study patterns is most likely to result in long-term learning:

  1. study study study study – test
  2. study study study test – test
  3. study study test test – test
  4. study test test test – test

He says, “The most successful pattern is in fact No. 4. Having just one study session, followed by three short testing sessions – and then a final assessment –  will out perform any other pattern.”

Traditionally, schemes of work and curricula have been designed according to study pattern one but there is evidence to suggest a rethink.

As teachers, we often complain that after an apparently successful lesson, series of lessons and/or assessment, students have forgotten content (how many times have you felt frustrated at a year 10 student’s apparent inability to use capital letter?) Dylan William attributes this forgetting to a lack of extended practice, overlearning, testing and revisiting.

Robert and Elizabeth Bjork makes similar suggestions:

  1. Information that is presented repeatedly over spaced intervals is learned much better than information that is repeated without intervals.
  2. Students learn content better when it is interleaved with other content.
  3. Retrieval practice is most effective in transferring learning to long-term memory.

5 ways to make knowledge stick

Bearing this important evidence in mind, here are 5 ideas for ‘making knowledge stick’ and effective revision tips in the run-up to exam season.

1. Knowledge organisers

This idea is taken from the excellent Michaela Community School and Joe Kirby.

Organise the key knowledge you want students to know into a table which they have throughout the scheme. You can use this resource as a template. This is used to test, set homework and self-quiz which brings me to…

2. Self-quizzing

Using the knowledge organiser, students read, cover, regurgitate and then check their answers for homework knowing they will be tested on this knowledge and that teachers will check for evidence of self-quizzing. They add any missed information in a different colour pen to show where the gaps in their knowledge are (cheeky bonus = no marking required!)

What I really love about this one is that it get a students into good revision habits from year 7 – no longer do I hear the ‘You can’t really revise for English’ excuse!

3. Low-stakes testing

Starter quizzes, cloze activities and cold-call questioning are great ways to test students’ knowledge without the pressure of grades and formal assessment (again, marking-free my friends!)

4. Memory platform

A fantastic form of low-stakes testing created by Andy Tharby.

Questions one-three test last lesson’s learning, question four tests last week’s learning, question five tests last term’s learning and question six links last term to last lesson (this really challenges them to have mastered the content and often elicits some very creative responses!) This activity is a great way to interleave content. There is a downloadable example here.

5. Choral response

One of Doug Lemov’s very simple but incredibly effective Teach Like a Champion techniques.

Students chant back to you key information such as a spelling mnemonic, a phrase in French or the definition of a mathematical term. Students at all ability levels are empowered by this learning of knowledge particularly as the progress is so tangible for them.

Using these techniques both in class and at home means they are well prepared (and confident too) entering the exam hall this summer. The fact that many of them are also low input in terms of planning and marking too at this stressful time of year is purely coincidental!

Helen Sharpe

Helen works at The Radclyffe School in Oldham as English AST and Lead Teacher for Literacy. She has worked tirelessly to build a culture of reading through regular assemblies and whole-school initiatives while trialling and sharing best practice in pedagogy. Helen is passionate about curriculum design and led the development of a KS3 curriculum which followed 'the journey of literature' in her faculty, underpinned with fortnightly grammar and reading/spelling lessons. This curriculum was designed to be rich in high-quality texts, academic language and challenge and it has thus far had transformative results. She believes in high levels of challenge for all students regardless of ability or need.

16 thoughts on “5 Ways To Make Knowledge Stick

  • 13th March 2018 at 2:40 pm

    These are excellent methods of embedding learning! I agree with every one and they will all work in other subjects than English! Brill!

  • 13th March 2018 at 6:27 pm

    Yep all transferable and great for revision! Glad it’s useful 🙂

  • 17th March 2018 at 4:02 pm

    This is the second of your articles I have read and I believe we are on the same wavelength. Please contact me via e-mail as I’d like to discuss something further with you. Many thanks.

    • 19th March 2018 at 3:40 am

      Hi Anthony – probably best to contact the blogger via the Twitter link at the bottom of the article.

  • 19th March 2018 at 1:20 pm

    This is so true. That’s why Oaka topic packs are so effective – they give pupils the chance to repeat information, write about the topic and test themselves on an ongoing basis – all the tools provided in a clear, concise topic pack 🙂 Please take a look at our range of over 50 KS3 topic packs for science, geography, history and French.

  • 23rd March 2018 at 1:12 pm

    I’ve been using mind mapping for alternate homework in Sci and computing. Exam style questions in the other weeks taken from all previously covered topics. Task 1 as a test Task 2 self assess and green pen improvements no missed questions. Seems to be making a difference and is also the homework most regularly completed by pupils. I use a bell taks that covers last lesson last month and any previous topic. Again we review answers and pupils add missing details.

  • 8th April 2018 at 10:48 am

    Really useful post which has given me something to consider to make learning stick even better. Will definitely try the knowledge organisers. I see your retrieval practice is a set of questions in list format. I have a colourful retrieval practice template in grid form (which can be found by clicking my name) if any reader finds it helpful.

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  • 7th May 2018 at 11:00 pm

    A great reminder of my Easter reading of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teacher: The Michaela Method. My questions when implementing this method are, however:
    1. How easy is it to roll out to a 4- people strong language department?
    2. What does knowledge look like in MFL (avoiding single lexical items)? Am I to assume that grammar explanations, pronunciation rules and culture fit into vocabulary and syntactical structures?
    3. What would a knowledge organiser look like in MFL (I have my own idea)?
    4. How can MFL textbooks be dovetailed into this method?

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