Making Connections: Helping Students Remember Concepts

Helping students of different levels and learning styles connect to course concepts can be one of the most challenging obstacles any teacher faces, whether it be online or in the traditional classroom.  Here are some ways you can aid your students in remembering (and retaining!) important course concepts


In the simplest terms, metacognition simply means thinking about thinking. For example, if you’re teaching a literature course, as an icebreaking activity, you might ask your students to recount a positive reading experience that they’ve had previous to the course. This will get students to associate positive feelings with reading before you even assign something for them to read! If a student enters a course with negative feelings about the subject matter or their ability to achieve the course objectives, it’s incredibly difficult to overcome that negativity. Therefore, reminding students of a prior success in a certain area is an excellent way to get off on a positive footing.


One of the best ways to remember something is to use a mnemonic device or wordplay. No matter what walk of life you’re from, you most likely remember the following: “I before E except after C” and “30 days hath September, April, June, and November. All the rest have 31.”

Another example of a mnemonic device capitalizes on the first letter in each word. For example, in a biology class I once learned the way that species are organized by the following sentence: King Phillip Came Over For Good Soup, which stood for Kingdom-Phyla-Class-Order-Family-Genus-Species.


How many times have you heard the question “When will I ever use this in my career/the future?”? A personal connection with course material is essential to student assimilation of the information. If a student believes that the material has no value in their daily life, it will be difficult to get that student to fully participate in a course. Initiating an “aha” or “lightbulb” moment for a student will help them remember a concept.

Social Interaction

Social interaction reinforces a student’s acquisition of course materials. Participating in a discussion, interactive game, or peer review activity gets students to share their ideas with others. Even simply relaying the information learned to a colleague or family member can help solidify concepts.

Pair it with Music

Do you remember certain songs from childhood with absolute clarity? Music helps our minds create unique and lasting neural pathways. If it’s possible, use a song or rhyme to illuminate ideas you want students to remember easily.

References: (Producer). (2014). The Neuroscience of Learning [Video file]. Retrieved from