Active Learning

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Small teaching approach: Connecting


Connecting is based on the theory that whenever we learn new things, physical changes happen in our brains — new wiring between neurons in the brain. This wiring is temporary at first, but strengthens with repetition. Moving from simple knowledge to comprehension is built upon students' ability to make connections. Telling students about connections isn’t adequate; students must build connections themselves with help from instructors.

How to apply this approach

Identify Existing Knowledge — Ask students to share their prior knowledge on a subject before teaching to activate that knowledge, identify misconceptions that might hamper students’ assimilation of new material, and forge the building of new connections. Examples: online pre-quiz, five-minute writing exercise at the beginning of a class period,or an in-class written pretest. Provide the Framework — Provide an organizing framework to new content to aid students’ ability to take meaningful notes and build connections. Use Concept Maps — Ask students to work in groups to create a concept map (a diagram that depicts suggested relationships between concepts) at the end of a lesson. This helps students visualize the organization of key ideas.


Provide Framework — Students new to a subject need quite a bit of initial help to see how content is organized and connected. Making the framework visible to students helps them recognize how certain ideas fit together. Facilitate Connections — Guide students as they create their own connections by asking probing questions, providing feedback on their observations, and redirecting their efforts when they get stuck or off track. Leverage Peer Learning — Collaborative learning is most successful when students are working to create connections with newly-acquired knowledge. Students are often energetic and curious as they listen to peers’ connections and strengthen their own understanding.

Quick Tips

  • Use the beginning of the semester to learn about students’ prior knowledge via written or oral questions or with whole-class discussions or focused listing activities.
  • Have students create concept maps throughout the semester.
  • Provide students with the scaffolding of a lecture prior to class, allowing them to fill in the rest and create connections.
  • Offer everyday examples of course concepts, or ask students to provide these examples.
  • Leverage in-class activities to help students make new connections prior to major assignments and exams.


Lang, James M. Small teaching: Everyday lessons from the science of learning. John Wiley & Sons, 2016. pp.60-71.

Keywords:small, teaching, understand, connect   Doc ID:117978
Owner:Timmo D.Group:Center for Teaching, Learning & Mentoring
Created:2022-04-14 12:00 CDTUpdated:2023-07-18 15:33 CDT
Sites:Center for Teaching, Learning & Mentoring
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