Teaching Tip: 10 Ways to Teach Studies

Travis DixonTeaching Ideas

These simple ideas could be applied to any study to make your lessons a little more engaging and student-centered.

I’ve found that talking about study after study in IB Psychology can become a little tedious, not just for me but for the students, too. I like a bit of variation and these ten activities could be applied to any study.

  1. Picture puzzles

  2. Murder mystery

  3. Painting picasso’s

  4. Replication

  5. Re-enactment

  6. Silent sorting

  7. Unscrambling

  8. Memory tests

  9. Speed dating

  10. Consolidating quizzes

Here they are…

1. Picture Puzzle

Find pictures to represent the methodology of the study. Copy these onto an A4 piece of paper. Have students cut out the images, label them and paste them into their workbooks (or notebooks) so they’re in a logical order. They may need a summary to go along with the pictures. This is good to use if the methodology is rather complex (you can find an example in our Criminology Pack).

Pixabay is a great source for free images, or use the search filter in google to find only “images labelled for re-use.”

2. Murder mystery

Write down individual details of the study and related concepts on individual cards. Put students in groups of three with one set of cards per group. They equally distribute the cards and they’re only allowed to read from their own cards (and not each other’s – they have to listen to one another). Their goal is to answer a question (i.e. solve the mystery) that you’ve given them. e.g. for Bransford and Johnson’s “laundry” study you might ask something like, “How can schema affect comprehension of new information?”

You can see an example with this activity from the Love and Marriage unit.

3. Painting Picasso’s (a.k.a. conversion)

This works well if you have two sets of information. For example, you’ve got a study and a theory, or perhaps a study and an explanation for a phenomenon. Put students in pairs. They both have to turn their written summaries into visual diagrams with a world limit (e.g. 5 words). They then explain their diagrams (i.e. teach their information) to one another and a quiz follows. You can incentivize it by saying the pair with the highest combined score gets a prize.

For example, in my PTSD unit plan (coming soon) I give one partner a set of information about how SSRIs work and another a summary of the study that we’re using to show they can work.

You can add a jigsaw element to this by making groups based on the information they have – for example, in my PTSD example above once the students figure out who is the “druggie” and who is the “researcher,” all the druggies get together to help each other comprehend the information and share ideas on how to show it.

A common concept that these activities contain is the idea that students have to think about the content in order to solve a problem. This simple paradigm can increase the thinking required by the students, which will enhance comprehension and memory.

4. Replication

This works well for studies from the cognitive approach. For example, Loftus and Palmer, Bransford and Johnson, Peterson and Peterson. It takes a bit of prep’ but once you do it once you have it all done (or…you can use our teacher support packs 😉

5. Re-enactment

Sometimes studies can’t be replicated, so we do the next best thing: re-enactment. For example in the “Love and Marriage” unit plan (available here) I get students to act out a scene from Gottman’s “Love Lab” study. You can even have re-enactments where students have to become fMRI machines, injections and other objects. This is another good activity when the study is rather complex in some way.

Kids love acting out Cohen’s “Culture of Honour” experiments because they get to swear.

6. Silent sorting (Credit: Paul Ginnis – buy his book here)

Give students individual sentences that have been cut out from a coherent complete summary. They work together (silently) to put the sentences in the correct order. Once they have done this, they summarize the information in their notes.

I let students talk after a few minutes of silence. The silence detail is just to add a new dimension to the activity and to make a bit different and perhaps more interesting.

7. Unscrambling

This is similar to “Silent sorting” but this time give students an example exam answer that has had all the sentences re-arranged. They have to re-order the answer so it becomes an excellent exemplar again. They re-write this in their workbooks, using their own words. The benefit of this task is that by the end they have all written an excellent answer.

Tip: With the unscrambling I give kids a couple of minutes on their own to start with and then I stop them and we discuss strategies. If they don’t figure it out, I explain that a good approach is to find details of the intro, central argument, evidence and conclusion.

8. Memory tests

Give students the information, either through chalk-and-talk, reading, or watching. Tell them that after they hear the information it will be followed immediately by a quiz. Then give students a quiz (in a way so they can keep in their notes) that tests key details. You could even write the quiz questions as statements: e.g.

  • Aim
  • # Participants =
  • Place =
  • Procedures =
  • Results =

Sounds good but you don’t have the time, right?

These are the kinds of activities I include in the unit plans in our teacher support packs. Available here.

9. Speed dating

All students are given one or two key pieces of information (e.g. # of participants, one procedural detail, one result, etc.). They commit it to memory and then they go and share their information with other people in the class. You can have it as a free-for-all where they just get the information in any way they can, or you  can time it so they have 30 seconds per “date” and then ring a bell and move on.

You could incentivize students to not use notes and say that they get +50% in their quiz score if they can do the speed dating without taking notes. The key behind not taking notes is that they actually have to engage more cognitive energy, thus increasing the likelihood they’ll remember the details.

10. Consolidating Quizzes

These are to do in lessons following the first learning of a study. We all know that if we talk about a study in one lesson and then never again, students will not remember it (except for Phineas Gage, of course!) Beginning lessons with fun quizzes that have a bit of competition in them can build confidence, reinforce learning and start each lesson of with a bit of excitement. The basics include Kahoot, Jeopardy, or Quizlets, while you could just have a “Pub quiz” style quiz using questions on a powerpoint.

One of my favourites is “Race to the Front” (again, credit to Paul Ginnis).  In Paul’s original version you have stacks of cards with one question on each card and one stack per group. The competition is to see which group can get through as many cards in a set time (or first to get through all cards). They can only answer one at a time.

This, however, adds a bit of prep’ and wherever possible I try to cut down on prep’ time. So a variation that works just as well is to have a PowerPoint slide with ten questions (that appear one at a time). Students work in groups of three and ideally have one mini-whiteboard and marker (+ eraser) for each group. Post the first question and when they have an answer they race to the front. If it’s right they give themselves a point on the scoreboard (tally marks on the whiteboard) and then post the next question. (This activity is included in the TSP unit plan for Social Influence Part I – coming soon).

TIP: The Devil’s In the Detail 

Small details can make the world of difference. For example, in my race to the front quiz I use my trusty concierge’s bell. Every time there’s a right answer I let the students hit the bell. It’s amazing how this one small detail will suddenly send the dopamine and adrenaline levels flying – I’ve found even the most reserved kids pushing others out the way as they race to the front with an answer.

Have you got any great activities that could be appied to any study? If so, please leave a summary in the comments.