Lesson Ideas: Schema Theory

Travis DixonCognitive Psychology

Comprehending the concept of schemas is difficult and takes time. My advice is to be patient and try using as many different examples as possible over the course of a few lessons.

The first step in teaching schema theory is getting students to comprehend the abstract concept of “schemas” in the first place. In my experience, takes a couple of lessons at least.

In our ThemEd Facebook group for IB Psychology Teachers (Join Here) I recently asked our members for some help in coming up with ideas. There were so many great ones that I thought I’d summarize a few of them here. I’ve chosen those that take little to no planning.

Brain Dumping on Psychology

If you did this activity in your introduction, this is a good way to start teaching about schema theory.

Creating Schemas with Poster Paper

Put A3/A2 pieces of poster paper around the wall with a one or two word heading. Give students 30 seconds at each piece of paper to write down the kinds of words, images, thoughts or feelings when that they associate with word. Discuss afterwards and explain how these are examples of schemas – they have grouped all of these things together in their minds when they think of that particular item. The items could be things like “school” “homework” “IB” “Psychology” “love” “summer holidays” “dogs” “Technology” etc.

Credit: Thanks, Lauren 🙂

Schemas and Comprehension

Read to or have students read the description below. Do some kind of distraction task and then ask them to recall how much they remember. They discuss why it was difficult. Show the text again but this time explain that it’s about flying a kite. Think-pair-share why it’s easier to comprehend after they know the subject of the passage.

schema theory image

This is similar to the Laundry Schema study we replicate in the Social Influence Part II unit.

Credit: Thanks, Sara 🙂

Simplifications, schemas and a bit of sorcery

Give students mini-whiteboards (or have three or four come to the board at the front if you don’t have these) and ask them to draw some basic items: a house, a clock, a boy, a girl, a ghost, etc.

For the clock, they are likely to draw an analogue clock, but most of the clocks they see are digital. Why is this?

I like Michael’s suggestion to ask them to put hands on an analogue clock and the teacher does the same with a mini-whiteboard. The big reveal is that they’ve all written the time as 3’O’clock (maybe) (it’s like sorcery) Why? We can’t store all the memories of clocks we’ve ever encountered so we have a simplified representation (a schema) of clocks in our mind.

Why do all of their houses (probably) look like the one below?

basic house

By drawing things like a house, we can see our schemas help us make generalizations (and over simplifications) so we can simplify our cognitive processing.

Credit: Thanks, Michael 🙂

Schemas and Gender Roles

This short video (2:30) from Advert Enticement’s youtube channel shows how children acquire stereotypes of gender (a type of schema) from a young age. It could lead to an interesting discussion of where these gender schemas come from.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-VqsbvG40Ww]
Credit: Thanks, Sara 🙂

The Rumour Chain

This is an activity similar to Bartlett’s “War of the Ghosts,” which is also a good experiment to replicate in class. Basically, students hear a story and try to pass it along and then we see how the story has become distorted. The example story and instructions can be found here (site) or downloaded here.

Credit: Thanks, Marc 🙂

Joey on “Pyramid”

Perhaps this one would be a good consolidation activity after a couple of lessons on schema where students are more comfortable with the concept. Watch these clips of Joey in Friends on the gameshow “Pyramid.” Ask students to be thinking about how any of this relates to schema or schema theory.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pZmQqzQV0gg]
Credit: Thanks, Marc 🙂

Social Influence Part II (coming soon) has resources and instructions for a few schema theory study replications. These are another great way to reinforce schema-related concepts.