Metacognition Activity

Typically, careers have a language all their own and education is no exception. I’m still working on pronouncing pedagogy and pedagogic properly. If metacognition is one of those terms where you are wondering – what do I do with this? – check out this activity from this year’s National Association of Developmental Education (NADE) Conference.

This metacognition activity can be used in a wide variety of classes and it will help your students. To start with the basics, metacognition is thinking about thinking – it is important in the learning process. However, in the shortened 15 week semesters, it can be overlooked in the process of making sure you’ve covered all of the competencies and have summative and formative assessments and you are keeping the students engaged and … the list goes on. This metacognition activity is a short exercise to help students think about their own learning; it can be completed in about 15 minutes. I’d recommend using it early in the semester, probably in the first week of classes.

The activity is called “Count the Vowels”.  It was adapted from an exercise developed by Dr. Saundra McGuire at Louisiana State University.

Students should learn the following from this activity:

  • Asking questions when directions are confusing is important.
  • They will learn better if they are given clear directions.
  • Learning improves if they have a strategy for linking and relating the information provided.

There are three steps in this activity.

  1. Count the vowels
    • Students are first given the direction that they will be shown a list of words, for 30 seconds, and they are to accurately count the number of vowels within the words. If desired, you could also be purposely confusing about the directions, for example, by telling them to include y as a vowel and then change your mind. If you are team teaching, you could conflict each other on the directions.
    • Show the list of words to the students for 30 seconds.
    • Tell the students to write down all of the words that they remember.
    • Ask the students how many words they remembered.
  2. Remember the words
    • Tell the students that you want them to memorize the words and you will show them the list again for 30 seconds.
    • Show the list of words to the students a second time.
    • Ask the students how many words they remembered. You may have some students who recognized the pattern and knew all or nearly all of the words. For students who memorized most of the words, ask them how they did it. If no one shares, then guide the students on recognizing the pattern that will help them memorize the words.
  3. Remember the words with guidance
    • Show the list to the students again, for 30 seconds, and ask them to memorize the words.
    • Have the students write down all of the words that they can remember.
    • Ask the students how many words they remembered.

Discussion possibilities after completing the activity:

  1. How did it feel when the directions were unclear? Did you learn better when you had clear directions?
  2. Were you any smarter when you only knew 3 or 4 words versus when you knew 12 or more? What made the difference?
  3. How can you benefit from this activity? What can you do to improve your learning? Why did I have you complete this activity?

Here is the file with the list of words: Count-the-Vowels_Word-List

I was one of the “students” in this exercise and I found myself surprised at what a difference it made in recognizing the pattern. I think your students will benefit from this activity too.

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