Highland Learning and Teaching Toolkit

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Learning and Teaching should create Lifelong Learners who are Active Citizens:

Learning  to Learn



Thinking Skills

Learning  to Learn

Teacher Self Evaluation

Roles and Responsibilities































































In addition to teaching pupils curriculum content, we can teach them strategies for more effective learning.  Teaching pupils how to learn helps pupils develop skills which will contribute to lifelong learning.  It can help develop positive attitudes to the learning process; it can improve motivation; and it can promote adaptability and flexibility in pupils’ approaches.  This document deals with similar areas to the Toolkit material on Accelerated Learning.  Learning to Learn is sometimes abbreviated to L2L.

Points Arising from Research


Pupils can be taught how to learn more effectively


Recent and constantly developing research helps us understand more about how the brain works and about the learning process


A “mind-friendly” approach to learning can improve pupil-teacher relationships


The brain works most effectively when both left and right hemispheres work together


Without reinforcement, we forget about 80% of what we have learned within one day


Able pupils tend to be less positive about “mind-friendly” strategies


Short term memory can hold about 7 items for a short time; we need to try to move items into the long-term memory.

Key Elements of Learning to Learn


This can be developed in several key areas:


Promotion of self-esteem.  Pupils will learn more effectively if they believe that they have the ability to succeed.  (See Toolkit section on Self-Esteem )


Awareness of how the brain functions can help focus on the learning process:

  • The left and right sides function differently.  The most effective learning exploits the potential of both sides.  Thus using colour, graphics, patterning and rhythm (associated with right brain) can help learn “linear” material (associated with the left brain)

  • Learning is most effective when the brain is relaxed and alert and emitting alpha waves.


Pupils can benefit from understanding their individual preferred learning styles (particularly Visual/Auditory/Kinetic).  Teachers can help by responding to these


A SWOT analysis can help pupils orientate themselves for individual tasks and in a broader educational context.  This considers Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats in the learning process


Knowing that we learn most effectively at the beginning and end of a session can help pupils organise study time.  (25-40 minute blocks are best)

Learning environment


In order to promote a relaxing environment, Baroque music (eg Bach, Mozart, Vivaldi) can be played.  Its rhythm of 60-70 beats per minute is similar to the frequency of alpha waves and encourages their production


Dehydration inhibits learning and schools should make supplies of drinking water easily accessible to pupils (even in class?)


If the teacher is seen as a learner too, this can help create a positive learning environment.  Helps create an atmosphere of mutual respect

Organising ideas


Because the brain responds well to patterns, using MIND MAPS can be very effective.  Invented by Tony Buzan, these involve pupils converting information into diagrams, using colour and graphics.  These work well for several reasons:

  • The process of organisation helps the brain understand and retain the information
  • The use of colour-coding helps the brain make sense of the information
  • The use of graphics linked to individual ideas aids retention of information   

Brainstorming is an excellent way of producing/collecting ideas.  Brainstorming can lead to a mind map and then on to a linear organisation of material if this is necessary

Learning strategies


Mnemonics can really help us learn information.  These can work in several ways:

  • Using a memorable string of words (eg Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain)

  • Creating a story in which the individual items to be remembered are mentioned in turn

  • Numbers can be learned by using rhyming words and building them into a story.


Various types of patterning can be used.  Long numbers can be learned more easily if they are learned in short blocks (three/four/five at a time)


Pupils can be encouraged to adopt specific strategies, such as:

  • Learning spellings:  Read-Say-Cover-Write-Check and variations on this theme (saying the word aloud during the process aids retention)

  • Knowing how and where to access relevant information

  • Knowing procedures to follow when stuck

  • Regularly reviewing material learned.


Speed reading skills can be developed.  This is touched on in The Learning File  (see Selected References)


Linking rhythm and music to information can aid retention (eg writing a “rap” – Pupil composition? Teacher’s?)

Reflection and Discussion

Do you feel that your department/school adopts “mind-friendly” strategies?

Are there ways in which you could enhance the pupil experience in this sense? 

What whole-school implications are there? 

Whose responsibility should it be to teach pupils how to learn?

The resources listed in Selected References, below, offer much opportunity to follow up these issues.

Some Activities for Consideration of Approaches to Learning how to Learn

Key element




Some examples and suggestions


The left and right sides function differently.  The most effective learning exploits the potential of both sides. 

Try Brain Gym exercises (see Selected References).  Research indicates that these can improve brain function – and they are also fun.  They can be used to provide a “Brain Break” in which normal classwork is suspended to give opportunity, for example, for some exercise, which allows blood circulation to improve, thus improving learning capacity.

Learning environment

If the teacher is seen as a learner too, this can help create a positive learning environment. 

Teachers can show strategies they have used/continue to use.  This can help pupils adopt the strategies themselves and also illustrates that everyone can learn to learn.  Pupils may be able to help the teacher learn something.

Organising ideas

Because the brain responds well to patterns, using MIND MAPS can be very effective.

The “rules” for mind maps are detailed (see Tony Buzan).  However, using a form of mind map can be straightforward.  Try getting pupils to do one to summarise themes in a novel or to show the causes of WW1 or to illustrate a chemical reaction.

Learning strategies

Speed reading skills can be developed

The research documentation explains eye and brain function during reading.  Pupils can be taught different reading techniques (see The Learning File in the references below)

 Selected References

Further Reading

The following books are all published by Network Educational Press Ltd, Box 635, STAFFORD, ST16 1BF.

Accelerated Learning in the Classroom by Alistair Smith (ISBN: 1 85539 034 5)
Gives details of the scientific background to current learning theories and interprets research for practical purposes.

Accelerated Learning in Practice by Alistair Smith (ISBN:  1 85539 048 5)
Exploits the research to provide extensive suggestions for implementation of current theories in practical classroom activities.

The ALPS approach - Accelerated Learning in Primary Schools by Alistair Smith and Nicola Call (ISBN 1 85539 056 6)
Practical strategies for Primary teachers

Lessons are for Learning by Mike Hughes (ISBN:  1 85539 038 8)
Gives consideration to the most effective ways of delivering lessons in the classroom.  Includes references to current research as the basis for advice.

Closing the Learning Gap by Mike Hughes (ISBN:  1 85539 051 5)
Further consideration of best classroom practice in the light of research.  Very good at prompting teachers to reflect on practice and good at opening up new ideas for consideration.

The following teaching resource is ready for classroom use, based largely on well-produced OHP materials (though look out for spelling/punctuation errors):

The Learning File by Matthew Boyle (in association with Quality in Education Centre, University of Strathclyde and The HCD Education and General Charitable Trust).


A lot of the references for this topic have very wide relevance to various  aspects of Learning and Teaching.

www.campaign-for-learning.org.uk/projects/L2L/l2lindex.htm has detailed reports on projects studying the impact of “learning to learn” strategies.


www.braingym.org.uk/ - access to Brain Gym resources.

The following site gives lots of practical ideas for learning activities and is well presented: 

www.alite.co.uk/ gives access to information about Alistair Smith and his contribution to the world of Accelerated Learning


Last updated 20/08/2010
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