I've finished reading this book called Made to Stick, which talks about how to make your important messages memorable to people. The book mentions a variety of strategies, but the single all-encompassing strategy they offer is to tell stories, because stories have various qualities that make them naturally "sticky."
For example, near the end of the book they cite a study done on some Stanford students. A small group of students took turns each giving an impromptu speech arguing for or against some topic on crime. The students were asked afterwards to rate each other's performance, and the charismatic speakers naturally scored the highest. As a red herring, the professor then played a short clip of Monty Python to get the students' minds off of the speeches. After 10 minutes, he turned off the video and asked the students to write down everything they could remember about the speeches they had heard. Shockingly, these presumably sharp Stanfordites remembered few details from any of the speeches -- charismatic or otherwise. They remembered almost no statistics or supporting ideas. The only parts of the speeches that were memorable to them were the few personal stories that were given to illustrate an idea.
Obviously, the lesson here is two-folds:
1. Stories are sticky, because they illustrate an idea with cohesive details and emotional impact.
2. A message that seems immediately effective does not necessarily have the lasting impact that you think it will have.
That got me thinking about the format of effective lessons. In my classes, I rarely tell stories. I could only remember one recent example where I had started the class hooking kids with a question, "What makes metal boats float, when we all know that a piece of metal would sink when we throw it into water?" I didn't reveal the answer until the end of class, after we had worked for a full class on measuring and calculating densities of objects. After all the hard learning had been done, we came back to solve this mystery of the floating metal boat, and I further tied in the story of the Titanic and why it sunk. The lesson was formatted like a mystery that unfolded piecewise, and hooked kids to be curious at every step. That curiosity was not satisfied until the end of class. At the time, I thought that the lesson went well. Now looking back through the lens of this book, I have a better framework for analyzing this lesson. It was essentially formatted like a story.
It got me thinking about my other lessons. Are they crappy because they don't follow this format? (I thought so immediately, but Geoff convinced me that I can't be so narrow-minded.) I think it would be helpful to come up with some general lesson formats that have been successful in the past, so that in the future when I plan lessons, I can follow a blueprint structure that has worked well for me in the past. (That was another theme in this book: Creativity thrives, ironically, when you follow a general structure that has proven to be successful in the past.) It would also give me a better framework for analyzing my own lessons in the future.
Are you aware of any great teaching resources that de-focus on content and focus instead on the format of a lesson? What are some lesson formats that have worked particularly well for you in the past?