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Why creative links between subject content could be just one of the keys to success.

Exercise, a healthy diet and a good night’s sleep are things which we all know to be crucial when studying for important tests and exams.  We are all also familiar – either as a student, parent or teacher – with the feelings of anxiety and stress that come hand in hand with this time of year. A big part of the exam period when I was teaching came down to managing students’ anxiety and fear of failure – letting them know that it is normal to a degree and encouraging them to communicate about how they feel with people they trust.

Appropriate study spaces, a good and realistic revision timetable, and the use of past practice questions also play a key part of course (more on these via the links below).  Yet, reading Benedict Carey’s article below in the New York Times a few years ago reminded me of a strategy I’d used previously that really motivated students when revising for their English exams: making creative links between English-related subject content and seemingly irrelevant and unrelated objects, pictures and songs of their choice. Some truly amazing links were made between Lady Macbeth and The Beatle’s Octopus’s Garden! (The basis of a students’ GCSE music project at the time.)

Carey highlights cognitive research which suggests, “Varying the type of material studied in a single sitting — alternating, for example, among vocabulary, reading and speaking in a new language — seems to leave a deeper impression on the brain than does concentrating on just one skill at a time.” He goes on to report how researchers have found that we are better able to distinguish the painting styles of 12 unfamiliar artists after viewing mixed collections rather than immersing ourselves in the work of just one. Seeing the deeper patterns and trends between the different styles helps us remember and reapply what we have learned more effectively and is often done subconsciously whilst making links.

It also provides much more fun and upbeat revision lesson alternatives to intersperse between the also important more traditional methods.

Useful links

rachel headshotRachel Wallace is a former English teacher and KS3/4 Leader. Easyread is an online intervention for children with reading difficulties, dyslexia, auditory processing problems and more.