2-for-1 learning

In a previous post I wrote about how visuals improve learning. The theory of multiple intelligences tells us that some of us learn better using differing methods: verbally, hands-on doing, seeing, and so forth. We all learn by repetition, so incorporating more than one modality into a lesson is guaranteed to improve learning. When we include an exercise where students search for visuals to accompany their word definitions, even for words that aren’t things, they get a 2-for-1 learning experience, increasing the chances that they will succeed on a vocabulary test.

In that post I wrote that every single student got 100%, truly a learning experience for me.

The vocabulary words in that assignment came from a magical short story by Ray Bradbury, April Witch. The words were ermine, musky, black kite, crocus, praying mantis, amoeba, rig, wild mustard.

My tenth graders worked in the computer lab, so I was able to immediately see what they were or were not understanding. First, I informally asked them if they already knew the words. Not a single student knew what a crocus was. Or ermine. Or wild mustard. Not even a guess. They thought they knew what a black kite was, and a rig, but they were wrong, even though their guesses about those two terms had nothing to do with the context of the story.

And that’s the point; they were not comprehending what they were reading. It’s not that knowing what a crocus is will change their lives in any meaningful way. It’s that they cannot build upon what they don’t comprehend. When neurons are not connecting, no learning takes place.

They were instructed to look up definitions for the words as well as images (we used Wicktionary and Google images), in any order they wished. Sometimes, the word definition helped, as with the word musky. When they learned that it was ‘the smell of musk,’ they looked up ‘musk’ and found perfumes and soaps to help them associate the definition.

The word ‘kite’ proved a particular challenge. The story mentions a black kite flying at night. They were content to imagine a kite the color of black being flown by someone after dark. When I pointed out the incongruence of that image, they came up with the idea to look up a ‘black kite,’ resulting in this image:

The word ‘rig’ was my favorite for its teaching moment. They were coming up with images like this:

Or, this:

There was absolutely no mention of anything having to do with oil or trucks in the story. One of the sentences using the word read: “A tall man rode up in a rig, holding the reins high with his monstrous arms . . . “. I let them flounder about for a bit, allowing the tension for comprehension to build. Finally, one student entered into the image search box: horse rig, coming up with this:

And, we were off and running!

Be forewarned: As we all know, when our students access the internet they access the world, and some of it is unseemly. Have your administrator set the Google images at ‘strict filtering.’

More about lesson plans and reading:

tale of two learning theories

taking the tough route

book ’em


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