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One simple strategy to make learning valuable

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One simple strategy to make learning valuable

“Why do we have to learn this?”

“When am I ever going to use this?”

You might dread hearing these questions, but our students are simply seeking to find value in their learning.  As an adult, I feel the same.  I have little patience to put effort into something I have no interest in or don’t find relevant to my life or future. 

It’s easy but unproductive to rely on quips like “because it’s on the test” or “you’ll need it in college”.  These may do little to inspire or motivate students to solve systems of equations or study ancient Greece.  Thoughtful responses and purposeful activities can, however, make learning more valuable. 


In a 2009 study, Hulleman and Harackiewicz found that students who made connections between content in science class and their personal lives achieved higher course grades and were more interested in science, especially among students who originally had low expectations for success.  

Try it in your own classroom with this simple “making connections” activity:

  • First, have students create a list of personal interests. 
  • Then, as a class, list the topics, vocabulary, and concepts you are learning.  
  • Finally, have students choose one item from each list and write about the connection between the two.  

Making connections not only helps students connect with and find value in their learning, it also improves reading comprehension and critical thinking skills.  Years of research conclude that reading comprehension improves when students connect new information to prior knowledge.  Students are more likely to remember Newton’s Laws of Motion when they can connect it to their own knowledge and experience playing basketball.  Baking cookies or toasting marshmallows around a campfire provide the necessary context for understanding the difference between chemical and physical changes. 

This writing activity certainly isn’t the only way to make new associations in learning.  The value resides in providing opportunities for students to connect new information to prior knowledge.


Check out our online course, Fostering Engagement to learn more about what motivates our students and what we can do as educators to positively impact our students’ engagement.  Registration is open and the next course begins October 6th!

Like these ideas? To learn classroom engagement strategies that make the most immediate impact, we recommend checking out our program, "Fostering Student Engagement."

Learn More >

Amy Jimenez

Author Since: May 8, 2018

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