The way your students approach learning has a large impact on how well they do at school. Thankfully, research shows that teaching your students certain learning strategies helps them to achieve higher results.
What are Learning Strategies?
Learning strategies refer to the different things students can do to enhance their learning. There are an endless number of learning strategies. And some are subject or even task-specific. For example, using:
However, some broader learning strategies cut across subjects – and some of these have more impact than others.
7 Proven Learning Strategies to Teach Your Students
Here are seven learning strategies that research shows have a high impact on student learning.
- Integrating with Prior Knowledge (elaboration)
- Outlining (organising)
- Transforming (re-organising)
- Rehearsal & Practice (retrieval)
- Asking for Feedback
Strategy 1: Integrating with Prior Knowledge
Students’ minds are not blank slates. Rather, they contain students’ existing understanding of the world around them. Research shows that students encode information better when they connect it to their existing understandings.
So, the first of the seven learning strategies is integrating with prior knowledge.
It is also important to note that some of your students’ existing understandings may be accurate and some may be faulty or incomplete.
You need to teach students to ask themselves what they think they know about the topic at hand – before they begin to engage with it.
Then, while they engage with it teach your students to ask themselves, how has what I learned:
Researchers often refer to the learning strategy integrating with prior knowledge as elaboration. Sometimes it is referred to as schema activation. And, there are some specific forms of the strategy. For example, summarising what you have already read before reading on.
Learning Strategy 2: Outlining
Outlining involves recording to be learned information in an organised way. Typically, students do this using some form of hierarchy. Such a structure helps students to separate main ideas from their supporting details.
Students can take notes using the principles of outlining. They do this by using headings, subheadings and a nested bulleting system.
You can also create outlines using graphical techniques such as mind maps.
Strategy 3: Transforming
Transforming is the third of our seven learning strategies. As with outlining, transforming involves students in organising information. But when transforming information, students rearrange it in ways that highlight different interrelationships.
These interrelationships can include comparisons, sequences, hierarchies, patterns, trends and cause-effect.
You can transform information in written form using words such as, but, and, next, because, and so. However, transformations usually involve some form of visual structure. For example:
Example of Using Tables to Transform Information
Example of Using Concept Maps to Transform Information
Learning Strategy 4: Rehearsal & Practice
Students need to move information from their short-term, working memories, to their long-term memories. This includes information about things (declarative knowledge) and information about procedures (procedural knowledge).
To do this, they should make use of rehearsal and practice. And they form the fourth of our seven learning strategies.
Rehearsal can involve flashcards, mnemonics, chunking, going over past notes, memorising lines for a play, and rereading material.
Practice involves retrieving previously learned information and applying it to the question/task at hand. Retrieval practice works best when students:
One recent meta-analysis found that retrieval practice had an effect size of 0.55 larger than rehearsal.
Strategy 5: Problem-Solving
Teaching your students problem-solving skills has a high impact on their results. So, problem-solving makes it in this list of seven potent learning strategies.
This starts with teaching your students the general problem-solving process. There are several different versions of this process, but they are all based on Polya’s 4 steps.
Then, there are specific strategies that you can use within this process. For example, in mathematics, students could use a combination of these strategies:
Learning Strategy 6: Help-Seeking
This one needs little explanation. Students do better when they seek out help from other people, including:
Yet, despite being easy to understand, many students do not do it. Teaching them the importance of seeking help leads to more help-seeking and better results.
Strategy 7: Asking for Feedback
But, feedback as a learning strategy has a different twist. It is about your students asking for feedback before receiving it. Research shows that students achieve 42 percentile points better when they regularly ask for feedback.
Furthermore, the mindset of students seeking feedback matters too. Students who believe that their performance is the result of their own actions or inactions are more likely to use feedback constructively.
How to Teach These Learning Strategies
So far, you have read about what types of learning strategies have a high impact on students’ results. You can help your students by teaching them how to use each of these strategies.
But the way you teach them matters too! Research shows that you should:
- Explain how, when and why to use each learning strategy
- Demonstrate how to use each strategy
- Scaffold students use of each learning strategy
- Offer your students feedback on their attempts
You can teach your students these core strategies early in the year – e.g. the last teaching period of each day for 5-10 days. And, then show them how to adapt them within different subjects, as part of your teaching throughout the year.
Supporting Research & Footnotes
Download a list of the research and footnotes that support this article.
Shaun Killian is an experienced teacher and principal with a passion for helping students to excel. He believes that assisting teachers to adopt evidence-based education is the best way to make this happen. Shaun is committed to bringing you practical advice based on solid research.