Students learn several subjects in a typical school day. That’s a lot of information to comprehend in one single day. You may observe that kids get overwhelmed when big pieces of information are shared with them.
This happens because large content increases their cognitive load when they are trying to process the information. This load ultimately results in a loss of interest in the topic affecting the grasping ability of the students.
To make things easier, you can use a very effective teaching strategy known as the chunking strategy. Using this strategy, teachers can efficiently use the power of a student’s short-term memory to make them understand and memorize big pieces of information.
Chunking teaching strategy: Explained
Let’s begin by understanding what’s chunking.
Chunking is a way of dividing large pieces of information or text into smaller units or chunks to make information easier to understand and process.
By using this strategy, you, as a teacher, can reduce the cognitive load on students and help them understand a topic using bits of information one at a time. Chunking will also give you a clear idea about which portion of the topic is difficult for your students.
You can use chunking for any length of content to enhance the learning process. It has the power to help students memorize a wide range of information like locations, letters, words, and even music. The steps involved in the chunking process will depend on the information you wish to chunk. It could involve-
- Breaking big pieces of content into smaller units.
- Identifying any pattern or similarity in the smaller chunks.
- Organizing the information into different groups.
- Collating similar groups that one can study together.
Why should you use chunking as a teaching strategy?
Chunking content into smaller, manageable pieces is a great way of teaching new topics. Students can derive a host of benefits if you strategically break down your content into smaller chunks. Here are a few notable benefits –
- Reduces memory load
- Enhances memorizing capacity
- Helps students synthesize information easily
- Helps them identify difficult words and phrases
- Makes it easier for them to understand the idea and keywords in a better way
- Enhances their ability to comprehend and paraphrase the content
Tips to use the chunking method effectively
1. Assess the learner’s knowledge
Before you chunk a topic into smaller sections, try to assess your students’ knowledge of the subject. Assessing prevents you from being repetitive and allows you to build on what the students already know. It will save your time and energy and give the students something new to learn.
2. Build on what your students already know
Once you begin teaching a topic, use the introductory chunk to introduce the students to the subject and prepare a base for learning. When the students master the initial concepts, add a new piece of information that can be correlated with the previous chunk to understand its context. This helps students understand how the two chunks relate to each other, their meaning, and what they represent as a whole.
Building up on your student’s existing knowledge shrinks the emotional and mental burden on them, facilitating improved understanding of the subject.
3. Make them practice what they learn
Learning a piece of information is one thing but bringing it into practice is another. So arrange for related activities that will help your students practice what they have learned in theory. Without proper practice related to a particular chunk, there will be no point in going on to the next because the students would not have developed enough clarity on the previous one.
4. Focus on one chunk of information at a time
It is essential you provide sufficient time for students to understand and learn a particular bit of information. Students often take time to learn new concepts and giving them that space to focus on one thing at a time is necessary.
Learning slowly may take time but is essential to support students. So, plan accordingly so you can give enough time to your students to digest information systematically.
General guidelines to implement chunking teaching strategy
1. Chunk before you begin
If you are using this strategy for the first time in class, it is best to chunk the written text that must be taught to the students beforehand and keep it ready for use. If your students are already aware of chunking, you can pair them up or ask them to individually chunk a large piece of study material into smaller chunks they are comfortable studying.
2. Discuss strategies to decode the text
Before your students start going through the shared study material, discuss the strategies they can use to build their understanding of the text. Ask the kids to circle unfamiliar words and find their meanings to comprehend what’s written.
You can also suggest they find synonyms for the new words they have learned. Encourage the students to read the text aloud multiple times and highlight important pieces of information.
3. Ask Students to paraphrase the content
After the kids have gone through the chunk a few times, ask them to paraphrase the content in their own words. Paraphrasing lets students express their understanding of the topic and gives them a chance to use their writing skills.
4. Evaluate and discuss
Take some time to evaluate your students’ paraphrased content to learn about their understanding of the topic and reading comprehension skills. In addition, students can share their write-ups with each other and discuss them.
In the end, you can take an opportunity to explain the concept adequately to strengthen their understanding further.
How you can use chunking for –
1. Reading Lessons
Students in a class may have different reading levels. Some easily read a couple of lines and comprehend them without difficulty. While some may struggle reading even a single line. To encourage your students to participate enthusiastically in reading sessions, you may –
1. Divide a paragraph into smaller chunks by writing each piece separately in a notebook, or you can highlight the sentences in different colors.
2. Let the student read the text, one chunk at a time, and try to comprehend its meaning.
3. Ask a few related questions pertaining to the text to see if they can answer. If yes, they can paraphrase the content in their capacity. If not, they can go through the text again until they can explain it in their own words in a graphic organizer.
2. Writing Lessons
Suppose you are having a session on how to write an effective introductory paragraph for an essay. Here is how you can chunk the writing lesson –
1. Begin by reading an introduction paragraph to the class.
2. Then ask them to point out or state the reasons that make the paragraph well-written.
3. Move to note-taking activity on the essential components of the introductory paragraph.
4. Let students go through a few examples to evaluate the effectiveness of each introduction.
5. Finally, ask the students to write their introduction paragraphs on a particular topic.
6. Evaluate their writings and discuss how they can make them better.
3. Aiding Memorizing
Memorizing listicles can get tedious and overwhelming at the same time. However, you can help students remember long lists of information, for example, the periodic table of elements, by using the chunking strategy. Here’s what you can do –
1. To memorize any list, let the students sort the items into smaller groups of 5.
2. Let them memorize each group separately and repetitively to register the information in their memory.
3. Ask the students to go to the next group only when they have mastered the previous ones.
4. By revising shortlists, students can memorize long lists of information that would otherwise be tough to master.
4. Chunking Class Periods
Students’ attention span plays a vital role in deciding how much they register in a particular session. A child is expected to have an attention span of 3 to 5 minutes per year of their life. Accordingly, a 5-year-old will have an attention span ranging from 15 to 25 minutes, while a 10-year-old can most probably concentrate for 30 to 50 minutes. This attention span, however, starts declining after some time into the activity.
Therefore, along with brain breaks, chunking can also be used to divide a class period into different sections to keep students engaged for the most time possible.
For example, while discussing Christopher Columbus’ voyage, you can start by telling his story or showing a video. Next, the students could discuss the hazards of undertaking such an expedition and share them with the class. Finally, the discussion can end with you sharing the real risks of the journey to bring it all in context.
Chunking is an easy strategy to apply in a classroom setting. Interestingly, there are many ways in which we use chunking in our daily lives. For example, we use it to memorize telephone numbers by grouping them into smaller chunks or remember grocery lists by segregating them into smaller lists like dairy, bakery, frozen foods, etc.
This clearly shows how we unknowingly use this strategy to help us remember important things. It is time teachers harness the power of chunking to make learning manageable and interesting for their students.
An engineer, Maths expert, Online Tutor and animal rights activist. In more than 5+ years of my online teaching experience, I closely worked with many students struggling with dyscalculia and dyslexia. With the years passing, I learned that not much effort being put into the awareness of this learning disorder. Students with dyscalculia often misunderstood for having just a simple math fear. This is still an underresearched and understudied subject. I am also the founder of Smartynote -‘The notepad app for dyslexia’,