The ranking systems of online search engines like Google are partly based on how many other websites link to a particular site. Similarly, memories that are linked to many others are more robust, and less likely to be forgotten, than those out on a limb. As a tutor, try and link what you’re teaching to as much pre-existing knowledge as possible, preferably deeply ingrained knowledge.
One teacher I interviewed for this book, Alf Erevall, who’d been teaching for forty years, told me simply “your teaching is only as good as your analogies.” Analogies are not only fun, they contribute to the robustness of memories, because they require students to link ideas. Interestingly, they actually work because they are imperfect. As Malcolm Gladwell puts it, “You want the analogy to be a little bit odd because that's what attracts people's attention. And that's what makes them want to talk about it.” The link is analogical not logical, and as my Google example goes to show, needn’t be perfect!
In general, the more links you help your student make, the better. This is especially true when you’re introducing a new topic. Ask yourself: are there ways I can link this to what they already know or things they find important? It can be useful when you connect these to topics you’ve previously covered together. Even small links can create connections in the brain that not only reinforce new learnings but also the old ones too. Here is an example:
Top tips on how to link topics as a tutor
Here are some ideas for linking topics so they appear more relevant to a student’s life:
- Introduce topics in a way that has some relevance to their everyday lives. First find out what interests them. If they love horses, calculate how much a horse should be eating, or write a letter to mum to convince her to buy one.
- Teach topics using topics students find interesting: “if YouTube paid your favourite star £2 per 1000 views, let’s work out how much she made from her last ten videos.”
- Sometimes using topics that are a little gross, or funny, can peak interest: “You know how your dentist tells you to look after your dental health, now we’re going to see some pictures of what happens if you don’t.”
- Rewrite topic questions using names of the student’s friends or celebrities they admire
- Demonstrate maths topics, from addition to compound interest, using items they may indeed want to buy, like computer games. Or try calculating the number of points needed to win the league. If you don’t know much about a sport let them teach you!
- Have them write persuasive writing pieces on topics they genuinely care about, or by writing letters to people they admire.
- Get up and move: when demonstrating the relationship between angles in triangles, and their opposite sides, create models or stand up and demonstrate these with pieces of string.
With a little creativity almost any topic can be linked to another.