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Identify Concrete Examples

Q.1: "When I study, I memorize what the teacher and textbook said. Won’t generating other examples confuse me?"

Q.2: "Sometimes, when teachers ask the class to give them an example of something just taught, the room is silent. Why is it hard to come up with examples?"

(*See answers below.)

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The benefits of Concrete Examples

Source: The Learning Scientists

To remind you how to use concrete examples when studying, download:
Concrete Examples Poster        Concrete Examples Bookmarks
   Spaced Practice Poster                  Spaced Practice Bookmarks
Source: The Learning Scientists

* Answers

1. Few tests or major assignments will ask you to parrot back what you heard or read. Ever been asked to solve a test problem that you think you have never seen before? Has an exasperated teacher expressed dismay because “we went over this?” What may be going on is that we only recognize 1 or 2 specific examples of a problem – covered in class or readings – and never explored other ways the problem can appear. Seeking many concrete examples when studying to help us see underlying principles behind the surface details (see below).

2. We see the world through its details but don’t often think about the underlying principles and forces that explain what we see. When we do, we often use folk explanations that are incomplete or inaccurate. Seeing beyond what we know (or think we know) can be difficult. When we are taught a law of physics, sociological behavior, economic principle, rule of language, etc. we are usually given a concrete example. But because we still have a shallow understanding of the principle or rule, we have a hard time seeing it work in examples that look different on the surface. Seeing many concrete examples, over time, helps you recognize the underlying concepts. The next time a teacher asks for examples, offer a tentative suggestion and then discuss if and how it fits.

Credits and Resources

Many of the resources in this section were created by The Learning Scientists, cognitive scientists who are helping students and teachers apply scientifically sound learning strategies. Check out their blog for regular user-friendly advice.

Further Reading About Concrete Examples
Inflexible Knowledge: The First Step to Expertise, American Educator
Learn to Study Using... Concrete Examples, Learning Scientists Blog

College Resources and Workshops
Advising Department's "Student Success Series" Workshops