Dual Coding

The theory for Dual Coding was developed in the 1960’s by Allan Paivio. The theory states that people learn via separate systems but related systems (verbal and non-verbal). For example, your brain stores the image for pie in a different place than it stores the word pie. But the systems can work together, that is why you will visualize a pie when someone is talking about pies. And seeing an image of pie will often cause you to think of the word pie.

In order to utilize the dual coding strategy in your classroom, you need to use both verbal and nonverbal (visual) materials together. This is helpful because it gives your and your students’ brains two pathways to remember the information, one visual (with the image) and one “verbal” (with the written words).

In science, a great way to incorporate dual coding is to use diagrams. Diagrams contain both a written and a visual component. Giving your students multiple pathways to remembering, while also being streamlined. They are streamlined because they only hold the most relevant information. You can do this by having diagrams be part of your class notes.

This will allow students to have guided practice in making and organizing diagrams. Then, you can model how to read and interpret the diagram. After students are comfortable with making and reading basic diagrams you can have students use the diagrams to answer extension questions. This will have your students practicing the elaboration learning strategy along with the dual coding learning strategy, which should compound their effectiveness.

I have applied this strategy in my 5th grade science courses. We are studying the water cycle and climate (2 units that lend themselves perfectly to dual coding). I have had them create diagrams explaining the water cycle, transpiration, rainshadow, low pressure systems, and high pressure systems. Then we have added information that shows how to increase the rates of evaporation, condensation, precipitation, transpiration, and sublimation. The goal, by adding these details are to help students see how each step is affected by its environment, and to give greater understanding in how each step works.

I have also had students use their diagrams to write a paragraph explain the process of the water cycle or rain shadow. The goal here, is that they understand the diagrams enough to express what they show.

How do you use dual coding in your classroom?







Concrete Examples


The basic idea of concrete examples is simple enough. You take a new concept that is complex for a student and you relate it to something that is simple for that student. For example, if you are teaching about soil conservation you would need to communicate a variety of complex vocabulary to students such as humus, topsoil, erosion, contour plowing, etc. In order for all of these abstract concepts and terms to make sense, it helps for students to relate them to what they already know.

You can compare the humus and topsoil to plant food because students understand the concept of food already. As you do this, it is important to then relate how the plants ‘eat’ their food. As you do this you can talk about how the plant roots help to hold the soil in place, like how a paper clip helps to hold papers together. From here, you can talk about how contour plowing slows erosion by plowing with the curves of the land. You can then go back to your paper clip example and put more paper clips along the edges of the paper. Your students will see that instead of being close in only one part, the paper will be close everywhere because there are many paper clips spread out along the papers’ edges all working together to hold it tight.

Paper clips holding paper together is the concrete example, while contour plowing helping reduce erosion is the abstract example. By explicitly linking the concrete example to the abstract one, you can help your students know and understand complex concepts.

However, this is not enough. It is also important to practice concreteness fading in your classroom. Concreteness fading is exactly what it sounds like. You begin to use more abstract examples over time.

For our above example, the concrete example is how a paper clip can hold a packet of paper together and a group of paper clips can hold a packet of paper together more effectively, similar to how contour plowing helps hold the soil in place. In order to start the concrete fading the teacher can use the same or a similar example, but this time there is no physical example, just a drawing. Then, after that, the teacher can simply refer to how contour plowing can reduce erosion.

This is, of course, a vast simplification of the process. But the pattern is essentially true. It is helpful to start with a concrete example that is already understood by your students. Then make it slightly more abstract. And move towards only having the abstract concept, because the abstract concept is often the goal of the lesson.






Elaboration is a useful skill for students to learn. It is also a skill that helps students to learn. The primary way elaboration helps is by the connections elaborating forms.

As a teacher, there are many ways to get students to use this strategy in your classroom, or on assignments. One way you can do so is to have students answer how and why questions based on the key concepts/ideas you are teaching. Then, you can have students explain the relationship between the different concepts/ideas.

Then, as an extension to this, it is helpful to have students make connections from the content to their daily lives. This can be done simply by asking students, “How does this relate to your day to day life?”

By answering these questions, students will be organizing the content in their minds. This then makes it easier for your students to both comprehend and recall the information at a later date.

In answering these types of questions, students can use their class materials, but it is more helpful, if they attempt to answer the questions without looking first. Approaching the assignments in this manner will have the added benefit of showing the student what content they do not already know (students will need to be trained in order to do this effectively).

As teachers, I am sure that we include many elaboration strategies in each of our lessons, but do we make it explicit? I know that I do not often do so. So, instead of simply having students answer leading questions (how, why, etc), I am planning on having my students come up with the how and why questions on their own after I have modeled it with them.

The students will have a list of vocabulary words along with the key concepts of the particular unit. They will then need to create a diagram that shows and explains the relationships between the vocabulary words, and the concepts. Then, they will either include how it is related to their life in the diagram or they will write several sentences explaining how the content is related to their life.

For example, we are studying the water cycle in my 5th-grade science class. The key words are evaporation, condensation, precipitation, sublimation, and transpiration. The key concepts are how the water cycle works, and what affects the water cycle.

What I would expect from my students would be to draw a traditional water cycle that includes all the vocabulary words. Then, on the arrow that goes up for evaporation, students could write that temperature affects the rate of evaporation (hotter=more, colder=less). Something like this would continue for each step until they get to how the water cycle is related to their own life. Here, students would have flexibility. One student might write about how the water cycle helps plants grow. Another might write about how humans impact the water cycle by changing the environment.

For me, this blog is one way that I practice elaboration! I am working to connect various teaching strategies that I am reading about to my practice. Thinking and writing about how I am using, or will use each. And then working out how I can use the strategies together in order to maximize their effectiveness.





Spaced Practice

This is my second blog post about learning strategies in what will be a series of seven. Previously I gave an overview of six effective learning strategies.

Spaced practice or spaced repetition is one of the more powerful, and simple tools to equip students with. Spaced practice involves spreading out your study time in order to more effectively retain the material.

A way to understand spaced practice would be to compare it with healthy eating habits. Eating consistently throughout the day is healthier than eating one large meal during the day. Likewise, studying consistently before a quiz or test is more effective than cramming before a quiz or test.

In order for spaced repetition to be effective, your students must schedule their study times out in advance. As a teacher, one way you can force this to happen would be to give homework several nights a week. The homework does not need to be intensive or particularly difficult to be effective. To make it effective, your homework can lead students to incorporate other learning strategies as well.

One way to accomplish this would be to give students a worksheet with space for key words and definitions, diagrams, and connections. Other than this, the worksheet should be blank in order to encourage students to use retrieval practice and elaboration.Spaced Practice

In order for this to be effective, you can require students to fill out the worksheet in two colors. One color for their first attempt that uses only their memory. And then another color for an attempt that uses their notes/book.

You need to model this in order for it to be effective. As I said in an earlier blog post, I am still new to learning strategies and this is what I have thought out so far. I am sure that my deployment of the strategies will change over time.

How do you encourage students to space out their practice?

6 Learning Strategies

Learning strategies are a new thing for me, but they shouldn’t be. I majored in elementary education, but found that I didn’t learn all that much about how students learn.

I stumbled upon learning strategies when I was doing a research assignment for grad school by finding the Learning Scientists blog. The blog essentially breaks down which strategies are the most effective along with why.

The most effective strategies are Spaced Practice, Retrieval Practice, Elaboration, Interleaving, Concrete Examples, and Dual Coding.

Spaced Practice

In brief, spaced practice says that repeated practice for relatively brief periods of time is more effective than cramming. Spaced practice should be practiced in conjunction with other learning strategies.

Retrieval Practice

Retrieval practice is just like it sounds. Students should try and retrieve all the information they can using only their brain. An effective way for students to use this strategy is by having them write down all the information they can about the topic. Encourage students to go deeper than definitions, how are the terms and concepts related? After students finished this, they should use their textbook/notes to check for missing information and the accuracy of what they have written.


To utilize the elaboration learning strategy you should encourage your students to ask themselves how and why questions as they are reading or studying. After students have posed the how or why question, they should search for the answer in the material and discuss it with classmates. When doing this, students should intentionally work to make connections between different concepts that are related. Then students should analyze the ways those concepts are different. It is important that students are accurately explaining the concepts. So, train them to check their explanations with their notes or textbooks.


Think of interleaving like making a rope. A rope takes several pieces of thread and winds them together, making the whole stronger. In interleaving, students should take several topics and study them one at a time. As they go from topic to topic, students should work to make connections between the different topics. After students have gone through each topic, they should then go over the same topics but in a different order. For example, if the subject is Biology and students are studying natural selection, the topics may include environment, traits, and reproduction. The students could study the following topics as follows:

  1. Environment, traits, reproduction
  2. Traits, reproduction, environment
  3. Reproduction, traits, environment

By studying the topics again in a different order, students will be strengthening their connections within and between the topics.

Concrete Examples

The purpose of concrete examples is to make vague or new concepts more easily understood by students. For example, if you are teaching elementary science and the topic is ‘adaptations’ students may not immediately understand the term. You can help them by giving a concrete example: “An adaptation a bird has is its wings. The wings help a bird to fly.”

After students understand the concrete example, help them to apply the concept by guiding them into making their own concrete examples.

Dual Coding

Dual Coding is a combination of written and visual examples. A common example of dual coding is seen in diagrams. Diagrams are essentially a labeled picture. When students use the dual coding strategy, they should look at the visual component and explain what it means in their own words. Another way to apply dual coding is for students to draw a picture/diagram of the concept they are learning. Then they can label/explain it.

As all these strategies are essentially new to me, I am still thinking about how to incorporate them into my teaching. I plan to explore each strategy in depth in future posts.