7 High-Impact Learning Strategies You Must Teach Your Students

By | First Published: | Last Updated: 18 May, 2021

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. You can:

Explicitly teach them to your students

Have students use them within your regular lessons

Encourage your students to use them when studying at home

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:

PEEL paragraphs within the body of a essay

Estimates to check the reasonableness of your answer to a mathematical problem

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)

Retrieval Practice (retrieval)

Spaced Practice

Seeking Feedback

Monitoring & Help-Seeking

Transforming (re-organising)


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, which researchers sometimes call elaboration. Research shows that students encode information better when they connect it to their existing understandings.

Then, while they engage with new information, teach your students to ask themselves questions such as, how has what I learned:

the impact of integrating with prior knowledge as a learning strategy
See Footnote 1

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.

Confirmed what I already knew?

Added to my existing understanding?

Challenged and changed what I thought I knew?

Distinct from, yet similar to related things?


Learning Strategy 2: Outlining

Outlining involves identifying key points and arranging them in an organised way. Students can do this in a range of ways, including:

Visually

With words

Using a combination of visuals and words

Note that, to be classed as outlining, the above strategies must focus on extracting key points and leaving out supporting details. These key points can:

Be from a single lesson

Link key ideas from several lessons

Connect key ideas to the students’ personal experiences

Many of the above strategies have their own set of research behind them (e.g. concept mapping). Yet, research2 shows the broad strategy of outlining has an effect size of d = 0.85.

outlining impact graphic

Strategy 3: Retrieval Practice

While integrating with prior knowledge and outlining help get information into the minds of students, retrieval practice involves students in consciously retrieving information from memory.

Somewhat paradoxically, research3 has revealed that retrieving information from memory helps students to cement new learning into their long-term memory.

Originally known as the testing effect, retrieving information from memory has a large impact on learning4 (g = 0.93). Furthemore, it is substantially better5 than re-studying, reviewing notes and rereading texts.

retrieval practice impact diagram

Retrieval practice includes retrieving both:

Conceptual understandings

Procedures

The impact of retrieval practice is enhanced when students engage in:

Self-questioning (e.g. why isn’t 9 a prime number?)

Self-verbalising (e.g. talking yourself through the steps in a procedure)

Interestingly, the testing effect is distinct from the impact that feedback has on students’ learning. Put another way, students’ results improve from retrieval practice even when you don’t give them feedback.


Learning Strategy 4: Spaced Practice

While retrieval practice is powerful in its own right, it is even more potent when practice sessions are spaced out over time. Spaced practice involves practising the same thing:

Several times

Spaced out over time

This is quite different from practising one thing on Monday and a different thing on Tuesday (or week-by-week). Researchers refer to practising one thing intensely before moving onto the next thing as massed practice. And, research has revealed that, on average, students who space out their practice score 15% higher than students who complete massed practice.

15%
Spaced Practice Example


Strategy 5: Seeking Feedback

You should always find opportunities to give your students feedback. Giving feedback is both an evidence-based and a high-impact teaching strategy.

But, feedback as a learning strategy has a different twist. It is about your students seeking feedback before receiving it. Research shows that students achieve 42 percentile points better when they regularly seek feedback.

Students can seek feedback from:

People (e.g. you, more able peers, older siblings, parents, tutors)

Material (e.g. textbook exercise answers, online automated scoring services)

When receiving feedback from material, it is important that students go the extra mile and find out why their answers were right or wrong.


Learning Strategy 6: Monitoring & Help Seeking

Monitoring, or self-monitoring involves actively being aware of when you understand something and when things no longer make sense. Students can monitor their understanding while:

Listening to you

Reading texts

Working on tasks

This simple strategy has a large impact on its own, and is an essential first step for students to know when to ask for help.

After teaching your students to self-monitor, you need to stress the importance of asking for help. The act of asking for help needs little explanation, but your students must understand how much it impacts their learning.


Strategy 7: Transforming

Transforming involves re-outlining or reorganising material. For example, you may have taught your students how to multiply common fractions. In doing so, you may have presented a series of steps.

Your students may have created an outline of these steps and practised following them. Transforming involves your students in reorganising what they have understood a different way.

For example, they could create a Venn diagram comparing multiplication of common fractions with addition of common fractions.

Transforming learned material helps encode learning.

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 (general meta-cognitive knowledge)

Demonstrate how to use each strategy

Scaffold students use of each learning strategy

Offer your students feedback on their attempts (personal meta-cognitive knowledge)

Footnotes


 

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.

impact of transforming as a learning strategy
See footnote 3

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:

  • Tables
  • Venn Diagrams
  • Graphs
  • Steps
  • Timelines
  • Concept maps
  • + More
Example of Using Tables to Transform Information

tables as an example of transforming learning strategy

Example of Using Concept Maps to Transform Information

concept mapping planets and the sun

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.

impact of rehearsal
See footnote 4

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.

impact ofproblem-solving as a learning strategy
See footnote 5

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.

polya 4 step problem solving process

Then, there are specific strategies that you can use within this process. For example, in mathematics, students could use a combination of these strategies:

  • Paraphrase the question
  • Eliminate extraneous information
  • Create an orderly list
  • Apply a formula or procedure
  • Find a pattern
  • Reason & Logic
  • Draw a picture
  • Work backwards

Learning Strategy 6: Help-Seeking

This one needs little explanation. Students do better when they seek out help from other people, including:

  • Their teacher/s
  • Peers
  • Other knowledgeable adults

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.

impact of help seeking
See footnote 6

Strategy 7: Asking for Feedback

You should always find opportunities to give your students feedback. Giving feedback is both an evidence-based and a high-impact teaching strategy.

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.

asking for feedback impact diagram
See footnote 7

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:

  1. Explain how, when and why to use each learning strategy (general meta-cognitive knowledge)
  2. Demonstrate how to use each strategy
  3. Scaffold students use of each learning strategy
  4. Offer your students feedback on their attempts (personal meta-cognitive knowledge)

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 drawing

SHAUN KILLIAN
(MEd., MLead.)

Shaun Killian (me) is an experienced and passionate teacher, as well as a past school principal. After a heart transplant and having both my legs amputated, I am not yet capable of returning to work. Yet, my passion for helping students succeed has led me to use my time to research teaching and associated practices. I then share what I find in practical ways through this website. The greatest compliment I have ever received from a past student was I never left any student behind. That is mission of most teachers and I hope you find the information on this site useful.

Contact Me

4 thoughts on “7 High-Impact Learning Strategies You Must Teach Your Students”

  1. Thanks Shaun. With what age groups do you recommend using these strategies? I am in a Prep – year 12 school and would like to share with staff.
    Kind regards
    Sheona Carter

  2. Hi Sheona

    Before reading the research, I would have said Year 4 and up. But the research showed the strategies were effective from Years 1-12. And, students use of strategies (after being taught) was higher in lower primary/elementary.

    I’m not an early childhood teacher, but I imagine that in the early years some tailoring would be necessary. For example:

    • Introduce activating prior knowledge (maybe with a more child friendly language) as something to do before you read
    • Modelling outlining using a class mind map to progressively summarise what you have been learning about (e.g. theme, science, humanities)
    • Using present (and possibly partially completed) graphic organisers to reorganise information students have learned
    • Rehearsing letter-sound relationships, and then asking someone to help test them
    • Asking peers for feedback on their draft writing, or even on their ideas for writing

    But, for many of the strategies in their more formal/traditional form, I would still say Year 4 and up.

    Cheers
    Shaun

  3. Hi Shaun,
    Love reading all of your posts. Thanks for providing such powerful and well researched information. I look forward to many more updates from you.
    Regards,
    Seamus Farrell

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