Analogies Support Understanding and Recognition

My years of experience in the trenches as a classroom teacher have reinforced continually the value of analogies as a teaching and learning tool to help students gain a deeper understanding of new material. Analogies that are drawn from student experience and that can be connected to new information have been successful in my efforts to get a point across or foster memorization more so than most any other method.

An Analogy for the Respiratory System that Help Students Gain A Deeper Understanding of the Parts of the Body

When I taught Science, my co-teacher and I would alternate introductions to the units. When it was my turn to introduce the respiratory system, I struggled to help students find a way to understand parts of the body that they could not physically see. The ceramic models we had available to us were lacking, to say the least, and did not connect to understandings that students already had in place.

What Teachers Should Know About How To Help Students Gain a Deeper Understanding of New Material

I will admit that it took time to find physical objects to represent all the parts of the respiratory system, however, I found it a fun challenge, a game in a sense. The morning that I was introducing the lesson, I showed up to class with two pillow cases filled with my analogous objects. As I dumped the items on the table, my co-teacher looked at me in confusion and surprise. I explained my plan and laid the objects out in the same order they would be used as air passed through the body.

The Teens Rolled Their Eyes… At First

When the time came for me to share this experiment with the students, I gathered them around the table and explained my process.I will admit that, given these were 10th graders and unused to such methods, I got some rolled eyes and teasing about what I had done. Undaunted, I began the lesson.

As I proceeded, I saw understanding reflected in the student’s eyes and heard it in their responses. “What would happen to a vacuum cleaner hose when I turned on the vacuum if there were no metal rings to hold it open?” “It would collapse and stick together. No air would be able to get through.” one student answered. Others agreed and grasped the concept. “Ok,” I explained, “Just like the vacuum cleaner hose has metal rings to keep it open as air passes through, the trachea has cartilage rings to keep it open when we breathe and air passes through.”

The Analogy for the Respiratory System Clicked

I could see it start to click with the students. The analogy worked. If you don’t have time to find objects to represent concepts you are teaching, assign it for homework. Let students create the analogies. The only time I would not suggest this is if you are studying the reproductive system.

Watch  Analogy for the Circulatory System

Research Background on Using Analogies to Teach

When people use analogies to learn a new topic or solve a problem, they have a higher success rate because they make connections between new knowledge and familiar ideas or models (schema).

According to one study, when three groups of people were asked to solve a medical problem, 75% of the group that was told to use an analogy to solve the problem was successful.  Analogies prove to be a useful tool in the classroom.  Rule and Furletti (WHO ARE THEY) found that form and analogy boxes improved student performance when learning about different body systems. Analogy boxes contain objects and cards that demonstrate similarities between the new concept (i.e. the eye of the nervous system) and the analogy (a camera lens).

Students will enjoy higher levels of success when they are very familiar with the analogies used.  In a study by Friedel, Gabel, and Samuel, teachers often used analogies that related to their own experience and, as a result, students failed to understand the relationships between the new concept and analogy. Teachers must choose analogies that their students will understand as well as emphasize the limits of the analogy to prevent student misconception.

RTI Strategies for Secondary TeachersFor more information on differentiation and Response to Intervention, see Susan Fitzell’s book, RTI Strategies for Secondary Teachers.

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