Factual Knowledge is Critical

In a way this is part 2 of my reflection on my current book entitled, “Why Don’t Students Like School?” by Daniel Willingham. Chapter 2 discusses how we can teach students the skills they need to critically think. It’s no surprise, factual knowledge, or background knowledge, in our working memory helps aid our ability to critically think. These are my takeaways from the chapter:

Chunking is Important:

Read this list of words, cover it up and try to remember as many as you can:

If you tried to remember this, chances are you weren’t that successful. These letters looked jumbled and have no meaning. Now read this list of words and try to remember as much as you can:

Chance are you were more successful remembering more letters with this list. You could remember these because the letters were chunked into meaningful acronyms you have a working memory of. The kicker is the two lists contain the same exact letters. The chunking of letters can help us with reading comprehension. You can chunk ideas A,B,C,D,E as you are reading and relate them together to make meaning. But, that’s a lot for most. Comprehension would be super simple if one could take comprehend A through E as a singular idea. What helps with chunking ideas and comprehension? Background knowledge.

Factual Knowledge is Important

One might think I have a lot of students that come into my 8th grade US History class with tons of factual (background) knowledge of our nation’s history. Wrong. The emphasis in elementary schools is on reading, math and science. Reflecting on past years, I assumed the students had enough knowledge. I was wrong. Giving students background knowledge is essential to leading to more critical thinking and application. I am guilty of trying to rush to the critical thinking/application part of our learning journey.

The information in this chapter related to my learning from another book entitled, “Visual Learning Strategies for Social Studies,” by John Hattie. In this book, Hattie stresses the importance of surface level learning. Too often, teachers don’t spend enough time in this level. I’m guilty! From my own experience, I try to get away from surface level learning because it’s too boring or it’s not “rigorous” enough. However, these are myths and surface level learning is vital for factual knowledge to allow for critical thinking. The more surface level learning the better.

Ideas for Surface Level Learning and Factual Knowledge

This is one of the reasons I love Eduprotocols – students gain repetition with technology and can focus on obtaining factual knowledge. Plus, Eduprotocols provide creative, fun ways to learn factual knowledge at the surface learning level. Here are some examples:

The idea behind these protocols is simple – lesson frames that can be used week to week, that incorporate the 4 C’s, that are student centered, and provide a 5th C for students – consistency. As a history teacher, here are some of my favorite Eduprotocols:

Cyber Sandwich – I love the Cyber-sandwich for student collaboration, communication, creation and critical thinking as students compare/contrast 2 ideas or topics. A Google slidedeck is created and shared with students. The slidedeck should contain everything the students need: links to resources, questions, etc.  Students have 10-15 minutes to read and collect information. After time is called, they share and compare/contrast their topics. This year I have used this for: Athens/Sparta, European Exploration, Colonial Regions, the French and Indian War, and Federalists/Anti-Federalists – click here. After the students collect information, discuss and share, I like to have them create infographics, maps, or storyboards.


Mini-Report – the mini-report is great for student communication, creating, and critical thinking. Students are provided with a topic, 2 sources, and they collect facts in an organizer. After 15-20 minutes, they review the facts and construct 2-3 paragraphs about their given topic. It’s a must to provide meaningful feedback as students are collecting facts. I try to focus them on collecting useful and important facts. After the paragraphs are written, I like to have students use their information to create a storyboard, Flipgrid, or a Lego creation. Click here for my example.


Sketch and Tell – I love the Sketch and Tell Eduprotocol for student collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking. Students can show their thinking in a variety of creative ways. I pose a question, provide a source, have students sketch their answer, and they tell about what they created. I added some variations on the Sketch and Tell having students build with Legos, PlayDoh, Oreos, or Gummy Bears. Click here for my example.

I run these protocols on a weekly basis in my classroom. It’s a great way to ease planning and give students repetition with technology and content so they can gain the necessary knowledge to critically think. Using these protocols on a weekly basis also allows me to focus on, and show growth with writing and presentations. I encourage anyone reading this to get the book, Eduprotocols, written by Marlena Hebern and Jon Corippo and try them out in your classroom.

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