How to Design Effective & Engaging Content: Give Time for Processing & Retreival

How to Create Effective & Engaging Content Pt. 6: Giving Time for Processing & Retrieval

Pretty much anyone can relate to a trip to the movies that felt like a waste. You might have been let down by the hype of a trailer. You might have spent way too much on tickets. All the seats might have been sold out.

But there’s something else that can ruin a film: a plot that doesn’t make sense or that doesn’t allow viewers to make sense of it. The same is true for direct instruction in our classrooms. 

So, how can we give learners the chance to make the best use of our content? Let’s take a look.

At its core, new content can’t be encountered and then abandoned. It has to be paired with opportunities for students to understand what they’ve learned, as well as to use it later. I’ll refer to this phenomenon as “processing” and “retrieval, but you’ve likely heard similar terms in an ed psych course (rehearsal, elaboration, etc.). Just to get us all on the same page, though, let’s take a brief trip down memory lane (pun very intended) and check out this information processing model for some quick reference.

What we’re really concerned with here are the two rightmost arrows. We want to make sure that students have time to first meaningfully process what they’ve learned (referred to on the model as elaboration and organization) and then to practice retrieving the information for later use. It’s pretty hard for me to underscore just how important the link is between these elements. Not pairing direct instruction with processing and retrieval is like ending a movie without a plot resolution.

Below are 20 strategies I use with my students to help them meaningfully process direct instruction, as well as retrieve it later. None of them requires tech of any kind. They are multi-modal and work with any subject area. They only take fifteen minutes or less. Note: if you’re trying these for the first time in your class, you’ll need to offer support and scaffolding until students can do them independently.

20 Meaningful Processing/Retrieval Strategies for Students

1) Flyswatter: Using 3×5 cards, have students write terms/definitions and then “swat” them when a peer reads the definition/term.2) Record Yourself: Have students recap material on video or audio. Have them listen and make revisions.
3) Memory: Using 3×5 cards, students play the game Memory with relevant vocab.4) Study Guide Highlight: Instead of answering a study guide for a test, have students go through and highlight questions you can’t immediately answer.
5) Matching: Using 3×5 cards, have students play Memory but with the cards all facing upward so they can sort them.6) Script It: Have students create a quick script for a movie/play about a topic/event/skill.
7) Draw It! Have students draw a picture of a complicated story, an indepth mini-lesson, or a tough vocab word.8) Objective Flip: Have students take the objectives from a mini-lesson and flip them into questions that they have to answer.
9) Make An Infographic: Infographics use charts, pictures, and text to convey information. Have students make one!10) Thirty-Second Summary: Have students summarize an event, vocab word, etc. in exactly thirty seconds. They’ll likely find you have more time than they need, but they’ll be forced to add on details and examples to fill the entire thirty seconds.
11) Make A Vocab Puzzle: Have students make a vocab puzzle. Check out Chapter 4 to see how!12) Tweet It: Have students explain a complicated issue in 140 characters or less while still including all relevant details. 
13) Quiz A Friend: Have students quiz a peer on what they just learned about.14) 360 No-Scope: In the middle of direct instruction, black out your presentation screen. Then, have students (without looking at their notes) write or talk with a peer about what they just learned.
15) Make A Comic: Have students draw a comic of a complicated story or an in depth mini-lesson.16) Love.Com: Have students make an online dating profile for a famous person, thing, event, or place. They should include three traits or achievements that people might fall in love with.
17) Beach Ball Quiz: Put tape strips on a beach ball and write questions on them. Have students toss the ball between them. They answer the question their left thumb lands closest to. 18) Make A Haiku: Poetry as a summary tool! A haiku has: Five Syllables, Seven Syllables, Five Syllables
19) Fortune Tellers: Like they did in elementary school, have students make a fortune teller with vocab. The “reveal” part of the fortune teller should be the vocab definition, answer, etc.20) Memes: Have students create memes about a topic, idea, event, etc., that make sense (and are funny). 

Want more? Check out dozens more processing and retrieval activities here! 

So how do you help promote meaningful retrieval and processing with your content? Post a comment below.

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