Two Easy Ways to Encourage Metacognition

First off, what is metacognition?  It is, simply put, thinking about thinking, or being aware of oneself as a learner, and constantly reflecting on learning (Barkley, 2010).

An instructor can help to develop a learners metacognition with strategies to help information acquisition, integration and retrieval.

Two techniques that I remember finding very useful as a student to help me reflect on my thinking, were to create a mind map, and also to teach the material to someone else.  The mind map helped me to link ideas and concepts together and make them relevant to a “bigger picture”.  I use this activity a lot when I teach in the clinical setting (LPN students), and am trying to help them piece together a patient profile.  A mind map allows them to link together diagnoses, risk factors, signs and symptoms, pharmacology, etc.  Each of these pieces come from different courses they have taken, but the mind map helps them to synthesize the information and make it relevant to their experience in clinical.
Having students teaching material to their peers is another great (and easy) way to help the students improve their communication skills and also solidify their knowledge about a particular subject.
The article referenced below refers to ESL students, but the fact is, having students teach other is beneficial in all subjects.  “Students master material best and deeper memories result when they invest more personal effort into learning. […] Having students write a report on their experience afterwards raises their consciousness beyond merely remembering communication strategies to reflecting on the teaching and learning processes” (

There may be some concerns that students might lead their peers astray in their learning, that the information may not be correct, etc.  Therefore, it is important that the instructor is actively involved throughout this process, and can provide clarification if any issues arise.  And a nice side benefit to this strategy: students had increased empathy for their teachers!  (“I never knew teaching was so hard!”)  

Barkley, E. F. (2009). Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.


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