Midterm season has begun and stress levels are on the rise. This week on the Nimbus blog, we thought we would offer a suggestion to keep studying interesting and effective:

Turn the lesson into stories.

Adding Context Improves Recall

 

Memories that we can put into context through including details like rationale and emotion are easier for our brains to remember, writes Judy Willis in the Edutopia blog. Stories provide that perfect framework that we can then layer information on, increasing our ability to remember specific facts.

To put a proper story together, we need to provide a why. Why does a tree need to shed its leaves in the fall? Why did the Ancient Greeks start the Olympics? So often when we are trying to learn a new concept we skip over the why and go straight to memorizing the facts. What is the process by which a tree sheds its leaves? What were the first Olympic event ever held?

To put a proper story together, we need to provide a why.

However, by skipping over the framework of the story we miss our chance to add detail and depth to our knowledge. If we understand that the ancient Olympics were a first a celebration of Zeus, and only later evolved into a tool to demonstrate political dominance, then it makes sense that the first Olympic event would be a Stade (a simple foot race) and not something based in fighting like javelin throwing or wrestling. By adding context, we increase the likelihood that we will remember the correct fact.

Adding emotion increases our perception of value

 

We all have those classes that we only take because we have to and it can be incredibly difficult to make ourselves care about a class that we only take for the sake of our degree. This makes it even more difficult to remember – we spend more time dragging our feet than we do actually studying or remembering.

The Significant Objects project put this concept that emotion increases value to the test. Researchers bought cheap items from flea markets and thrift stores and then had contributing writers produce a story to go with each object. Stories about lovely evenings tasting wine in an odd wine glass for sale, or the story of a suit made by a series of sewing needles for sale. The idea was that by adding stories, emotion and interest, the overall value of the item would increase.

In the end, roughly 200 items originally bought for an average of $1.25 a piece, netted a total of $8,000. Stories increase value.

The idea was that by adding stories, emotion and interest, the overall value of the item would increase.

So, add depth and emotion to the facts that you find blisteringly boring. Let’s go back to the tree losing its leaves in the fall for an example. Give some emotion to the tree itself – what would it feel like if winter was coming, and you would be outside all day? A little apprehensive, no? Then, add in your why. Winter is coming, it will be hard to survive – what does the tree have to do to prepare? Broad, healthy leaves might catch onto too much snow and could damage the branches themselves – what would that feel like? So, trees begin a process called abscission, where they re-absorb the nutrients in the leaves to store for the hard months ahead. The leaves then begin to drop off.

We can go back to this framework of a story and layer in more and more detail – the specific chemicals released by the tree to start abscission, the process through which energy is stored for the winter, et cetera. But by giving emotion and risk to the tree, we improve the likelihood that we will care about the overall story, and thus will be able to study just a little bit more.

Nimbus Learning now offers an online tutoring platform which allows students virtual access to academic support and mentorship. Click here to find out more.

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