The 3 Most Effective Ways to Help Students Retain Information (Ep. 007)

How do we get kids to really retain information? How do we make sure they understand what you are presenting and teaching? It isn’t always easy. In this episode, Cassie shares her 3 most effective strategies to help kids retain what they need to know. She also talks about why she loves to use call and response (5:15), tells an awkward Starbucks story (9:00), and describes how you can use your voice as a teaching tool (10:30). Full episode transcript below.


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How do we get kids to retain information? How? I mean, I’m asking. I’ve got some ideas, but I also have a lot of questions for you. I remember not too long ago, I’m embarrassed to say, I was standing at my dry-erase board and I was chatting with my students about symmetry, symmetrical, and asymmetrical. With ease, I wrote the word “symmetrical” on the board, then I started to write the word “asymmetrical”, and I couldn’t remember if it was spelled with two S’s and one M or one S and two M’s. I wrote A-S-S on the board and literally froze. I was standing there staring at something that I knew was completely inappropriate but I couldn’t remember the rest of the spelling of the word. I was literally like a statue, frozen with a naughty word written really large on my board.

I was not awoken from my spell until I heard a student say, “What does that say?” and another child responds, “That’s a dirty word for booty.” It was then that I immediately snapped out of it, suddenly realized how to spell “asymmetrical”, it’s actually with one S and two Ms, thank you very much, and corrected my spelling immediately.

If you want an effective way to get students to retain information, try writing a naughty word on the board. Okay, scratch that, that is the worst advice ever, but I do have some much better tips for you. This is Everyday Art Room, and I’m Cassie Stephens.

Okay, aside, and that’s aside with one S, not two. Aside from unintentionally writing curse words on your dry-erase board, allow me to share with you today my three most effective ways to get students to retain information. Whether that information be art history or simply the directions you want them to follow, I’m pretty confident that these three things that I’m going to share with you today will really help your students retain the information that you share. But before I get to that, I have a little quiz for you.

One of my favorite things to do is grab a Cosmo and take all those horrendous quizzes. Grab a pencil and let me share my quiz with you. Here we go. Number one. Ask yourselves, “Did my students hear me?” Meaning are they sitting close enough to you or are they sitting at their desks and some of those students who are a little bit further away can’t quite hear you clearly? Not to mention, if they’re further from you, there’s more interruptions between the sound of your voice and them. Think of all the things that might be distracting them on their tables. So, did your students hear you?

Second one, did they see what you were talking about? I have an Elmo, which is a document cam, and this has been a complete game changer for me because it means all of my students can see what I’m doing, but not everybody has that luxury. In fact, before I did, I had my students sit on the floor with me and I had a large easel. I usually worked in a much larger format than I had them doing. This meant that all of them could see what I meant or see what I was doing.

My third question is this. Can your students repeat the directions or the information back to you? If you answered, “Yes,” then you’re in good shape, but I can easily say that I’ve answered, “No,” many times to that one. Last but not least, were your students paying attention? Were they paying attention in a relaxed kind of way but still engaged? Or were they really excited and listening? Both have their merits. All right. Now, if you answered, “No,” to any of those questions, then why not try some of my tips.

All right. Here we go, my three most effective ways to get your students to retain directions or information. This first one I’m about to share I have shared many times both on my YouTube channel and my Art Teacherin’ 101. I’ve shared this a lot on my blog. The reason I share this tip so much is because I use it all day long and I strongly believe in it.

So, here we go. Tip number one, call and response. I use call and response with my kindergarten through fourth grade students all day long. We use it to repeat directions, information. You name it, they’re repeating after me. Even if I taught upper grades, I think I would still use it because it’s so stinking effective. What does it look and what does it sound like? Well, if I had you as a kindergarten student in my room, here’s how I introduce call and response to my kids. Since I’ve introduced it since kindergarten, when they’re in those upper grades, they automatically know what to do.

I say to my students, “Please do this, ‘ahem'”, and they all do that, “ahem.” “Boys and girls, anytime you hear me say, ‘ahem’, that means I want you to repeat after me and do what I do, ‘ahem’, and then they do it. From there, that’s when I’ll say, “First I will”, and they repeat, “First I will”, “Go shopping at the store.” By the way, the store is where my students gather their art supplies, I think I’ll have to cover that in a future podcast. Anyway, back to call and response. That’s the process I use to get them to repeat all the steps of directions after me once they’re given. That’s also what I use when I notice I’m starting to lose my students.

If my students are fading fast or I feel like they’re getting a little bit tired looking and we need to re-energize the lesson, I will clear my throat, “ahem”, they’ll do the same. “Today”, “Today”, “We are learning about”, “We are learning about”, “Sculpture”, “Sculpture.” And adding hand motions and all sorts of wild and wacky movements, even get them standing up to repeat the directions and go through the motions is really effective if you want your students to retain information, and of course you do. So, that is my biggest, number one tip, call and response. Try it, you going to feel like an absolute fool, but your students will love you for it and they’ll remember the directions.

Alright, here’s my second tip, and I know that many of you do this already. Come up with rhymes, poems, and silly sayings to help your students remember important things in your art room. So for example, my students, whenever they are using glue or whenever we are painting, and by the way, I keep my glue in glue cups, we don’t use glue bottles in my art room. Whenever my students are painting, I tell them to take their paint brush and I say, “Dip your paintbrush in the cup. Dip if it starts to drip,” meaning we don’t want drips of paint all over their paper. “Wipe it on the lip,” and I show them that the lip is the lip of the cup, and then of course, because we confuse that with the lips on our face I say, “Not these lips.”

So the saying goes like this, “Dip, if it starts to drip, wipe it one the lip, but not these lips.” These are the things that you will hear them saying as they’re working at their seats. These are also the things that are going to help them retain information and just good practices when it comes to using art supplies. Another one that I use because, like I said, I don’t use glue bottles in my art room, personally I find them to be the nemesis of art teachers everywhere since they clog so easily, so I simply keep my glue in glue cups.

My students paint the glue on with little brushes we call glue brushes. Regardless, I tell them that glue goes around the edges and that we never, ever need to put glue in the middle. So, we have a little bit of a body motion when we say, “Around the edges.” I also tell them that, when they’re done gluing, they need to turn their paper over and give it a massage. We always say when we’re massaging the paper, “Ah, paper likey.” I know, it’s ridiculous but it helps them retain that information.

Funny side note. I was at a Starbucks once and I had a mom come up behind me and start to rub my back and she said in my ear, “Ah, Ms. Stephens likey.” Awkward. But hey, her child retained that information so much he went home and shared that with his mom. Yeah, I digress.

One other one that I love to use with my students, another little rhyme, is referring to the paintbrushes as ballerinas. Your paintbrush ballerina should always be dancing and painting on her tippy toes, she never ever scoots around on her bottom. You know, when the kids grind their paintbrushes into the paper. Because, boys and girls, nobody wants to go to the booty scooting ballet. Yeah, it’s the little things. So, remember, use those rhymes, poems, and silly sayings to get your kids to retain and remember information.

Alright, and last but not least, the most effective tool in your art room to help your students retain information is your voice. Now, don’t think of it as using your voice cranked up to a sound or level 10, using all of these inflictions and different accents, because you’re going to lose them if so. Your voice is like a spice, sprinkle that spice in when you need it. Slow it down, bring it down when you need your students to calm down, or if you really want them to lean in and hear directions, spike it up, use silly accents whenever you want to grab their attention. Use that voice, it is your number one tool.

Alright guys, those are my three effective tips to getting your kiddos to retain information.

Tim Bogatz: Hello, this is Tim Bogatz from Art Ed Radio, and I want to tell you about our upcoming Art Ed Now winter conference in February. Today, we are releasing our first set of presenters, I’m really excited about the announcement, and I think you’ll be too. You can check it out at Art Ed Now dot com and see what the conference is all about. In short, it is an amazing day of professional development, but the reason you want to sign up now is twofold. First, this is the lowest price you’re going to see. The normal price is 149 dollars for the conference, but for the next three weeks you can sign up for just 99 dollars.

Secondly, you will get a guaranteed swag box if you sign up now. The swag box is an amazing set of art products, free samples, and test materials. A lot of people say that it is their favorite part of the conference. So, check out our article today on some of the presenters who will be at the conference, and check out Art Ed Now dot com to get the cheapest price you can and get the guaranteed swag box and make sure you are part of an incredible day of professional development. Now let’s back to Cassie as she open up the mailbag.

Cassie: And now it’s time to take a little dip into the mailbag. I have to say, thank you to all the questions you’ve been sending my way, I really appreciate them and I’m so excited to answer them in this podcast.

This one comes from Amanda, she asks, “how do you manage completed student work? Do they have portfolio folders? And if so, do the students place their artwork in them themselves?” Ah, completed artwork. Well, here’s how I roll. I do keep everything that every student has made all year, because at the end of the year we have a big, fat, hairy art show where everything the students have created is on display. So, it’s a tall order to keep everything.

However, a lot of times, in my art room, we’re doing artwork that’s pretty messy, meaning it’s a painting or it’s something that involves a lot of glue, so my students cannot place them immediately in portfolios when finished working on them, simply because they’re usually wet. So, I have designated drying racks that are at the end of every student’s table. Now I do have two tables pushed up against each other, so that’s a group of about eight students use one drying rack per table. So, this allows me to have their artwork all in one place, that way the following day, when artwork is dry, I then remove them from the drying rack and place them inside their teacher folders.

Her next question is about how to shave time off passing out artwork. That’s a really, really great question, and I love that she asks that, because I’ve been thinking about that for a while as well. So here’s where I think her idea of perhaps grouping or table portfolios would come in super handy, and I’m totally going to start doing it. If each table then, within the class, had their own portfolio, I could simply had that portfolio of dried artwork back to the students, and then perhaps a table captain or the art teacher in training could pass back those artworks, which would really shave time off at the beginning of class of passing out artwork.

The only reason I hesitate doing that is because I love that process of passing artwork back to students, because I love sharing with the other students what certain kids have created, what all of the kids have created. I think it inspires them, it gives them more ideas, and it really is a nice pat on the back to those kids to have their artwork held up by their teacher. So, I go back and forth with that idea, but I do love it. So, Amanda, thank you so much for your great question and inspiring me to come up with some new ideas for my art room. If you have a question for me, please feel free to send it to everydayartroom@the artofed.com.

Well, aside, and that’s aside with one S not two, from learning how to correctly spell the work asymmetrical, that’d be one S, two M’s, I hope that you learned several things from this podcast, or, more importantly, just three. Three effective ways to get your kiddos to retain information. I challenge you, if you haven’t done it yet, to use call and response in your art room. I think you’ll be really surprised at how well the students remember the things that you’ve shared with them.

Now only that, remember, of course, silly sticks. If you can introduce fun rhymes, poems, or silly sayings to your students, I promise you they are going to remember it. And last but not least, use your voice. Think of it as your most effective tool in the art room. Whether you crank it up or bring it down, or throw in a crazy accent, use your voice as a way to reach your students and help them remember the information that you are sharing. Speaking of sharing, thank you so much for allowing me to share my three favorite ways to get my kiddos to retain information in the art room.

This has been Everyday Art Room, and I am Cassie Stephens.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.