Side 3: Example, Picture, or Story. Now we’re getting somewhere. On tests, teachers often ask students for a definition of a term. Or they give students a definition and ask for the term. But sometimes teachers ask students to provide, or recognize, examples. Students get stuck if they’ve only memorized words and can’t picture a concept, or tell a story with or about the concept. So why not make this part of studying! Here’s a story about humility: A guy understands that just because he’s gotten a haircut doesn’t make him qualified to teach someone how to be a barber. Or, as I’ve written about elsewhere, just because you have had and recovered from a psychological problem like anxiety doesn’t make you qualified to treat it professionally.
Our class discussion turned to other virtues—one of them being prudence. Here’s one of the definitions from Merriam-Webster: “caution or circumspection as to danger or risk.” One student said, “Well, that’s the same thing as humility.” The student appeared to be lumping the terms together because the language of the definitions was not sufficiently different. He needed to play a little with the concepts to get them clear in his mind. If we had only a 2-sided flashcard to work with, I might have repeated the definitions and students might have memorized them but still been confused. With Side 3, however, we told additional stories about people being humble and prudent. Here’s one that may help: Two people walk into a bar. Herman, the humble person, says, “I’m not sure I can hold my liquor that well, so I’m only going to have one beer.” Paula, the prudent person, says, “I’m driving and I don’t want to get into an accident, so I’m only going to have one beer, too.” Many students have a much easier time understanding definitions when they have pictures, stories, and other applications. When confronted with an example on an exam, students can match the picture in the question to their own pictures, and see which one matches the best. Thinking in pictures can be very effective in addition to thinking in words.