Preparing to Teach Material Helps Students to Learn

Young man studying and taking notesAmerican students continue to lag behind students in other industrialized countries, particularly in math and science. In many school districts, this has yielded a push toward more achievement tests to track—and hopefully improve—students’ progress. According to new research, though, this might not be the right approach. A study recently published in Memory & Cognition suggests that students may learn better when they plan to teach material, not when they know they’ll be tested.

Can Teaching Aid Learning?

Researchers administered several memory and recall tests to small groups of undergraduate students. For example, in one test, 56 undergraduates read a 1,500-word passage. With each test, one group of students was told that they would be tested on the information. Another group learned that they’d be expected to teach the information to someone else. At the end of each test, researchers tested the students on their recall of the material, and no student was actually required to teach the information.

The students who thought they would be teaching the information to another person were better able to recall important details, displayed fewer signs of distraction, and offered a better-organized summary of the information they had just learned.

The study’s authors draw several conclusions from their data. They point out that students might not know the best way to learn information, but when they’re told they have to teach it to someone else, they adopt a more organized approach to learning. This organized approach requires finding key points rather than just memorizing as much as possible. They emphasize that there were no significant differences between the study subjects in the two groups. Instead, the groups simply had different expectations at the beginning of the learning process, suggesting that expectations can change both the way students learn and the effectiveness with which they recall information.


  1. Nestojko, J. F., Bui, D. C., Kornell, N., & Bjork, E. L. (2014). Expecting to teach enhances learning and organization of knowledge in free recall of text passages. Memory & Cognition. Retrieved from
  2. Student mindset has big impact on learning. (2014, August 12). Retrieved from

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  • Vera


    August 12th, 2014 at 10:31 AM

    What an awesome teaching tool!
    Helping others does seem to equate to helping yourself in many different aspects of life doesn’t it?

  • april p.

    april p.

    August 12th, 2014 at 4:08 PM

    Sometimes we just don’t recognize how much we are learning about something by simply preparing to share information with other people. It is kinda hard to share that information with them if you are not current and up to date right? So we try to learn as much about something as we can so that we can share what we know and have learned with others,
    Hopefully they can then pay it forward and will have the ability to do the same when it comes time for them to then help out the next person.

  • Andrew


    August 13th, 2014 at 1:43 PM

    I have also found that allowing them to work in group settings and quiz one another does just as much for the quizzer as the one being questioned.

  • Rowdy H.

    Rowdy H.

    August 14th, 2014 at 5:53 PM

    As a teacher myself, how do I bets learn the material that I am going to be teaching my own students? Why it’s thru prep work and planning for how I am going to best reach out to them and teach them what I would like for them to learn.
    The standard is the same for them. Any sort of repetition and preparation is generally going to make you better at what you are trying to do. It works for any of us and I would say that most of us find this to be quite useful.

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