Teachers use the first three steps
when introducing a term to students.
For example, assume a teacher is introducing the term mutualism. Instead of
offering a textbook definition, the
teacher describes the term or tells an
anecdote that illustrates its meaning
(Step 1). The teacher might explain that
the crocodile and a bird called the
Egyptian plover have a relationship that
exemplifies mutualism. The crocodile
opens its mouth and invites the plover
to stand inside. The plover picks things
out of the crocodile’s teeth. Both parties
benefit: The plover gets fed; the croc
gets its teeth cleaned. While explaining
this relationship, the teacher might
show students images found on the
In Steps 2 and 3, students try their
hand at explaining the meaning of
mutualism. They devise an explanation
or an example from their own lives
(Step 2). Next, they draw an image
depicting what they think mutualism
means (Step 3).
A few days later, the teacher reviews
the new term using Steps 4, 5, and 6,
which needn’t be executed in sequence.
The teacher might have students
compare the meaning of mutualism with
another previously studied term, such
as symbiosis (Step 4). Students might
pair up and compare their entries on the
term in their vocabulary notebooks
(Step 5), or the teacher might craft a
game that students play using these
terms (Step 6).
things about this six-step strategy. First,
the strategy works at every grade level,
from kindergarten to high school.
Second, it works better if you use all the
steps without leaving any out. In one
middle school study, teachers found that
the whole process enhanced students’
achievement much more than the parts
; Games seem to engage students at a
high level and have a powerful effect on
students’ recall of the terms. Games not
only add a bit of fun to the teaching
and learning process, but also provide
an opportunity to review the terms in a
nonthreatening way. After the class has
played a vocabulary game, the teacher
No strategy is foolproof. No strategy is
proven. You have to see how it works
in your particular setting.
of the process in isolation did. Third,
although the majority of studies indicate
that the process enhances student
achievement, some studies indicate that
For example, in one district in which
24 elementary teachers used the six-step process with one group of students
but not with another, the average effect
for using the strategy across all 24
elementary teachers was a 24-percentile-
point gain. Six studies showed gains
greater than 40 percentile points, but
nine studies showed negative effects.
Happily, the research is also beginning to tell us what does or doesn’t
make the strategy work. Here’s what
we’ve learned so far:
; When students copy the teacher’s
explanation or description of a term
instead of generating their own explanation, the results are not as strong.
Ideally, student explanations should
come from their own lives.
; The third step in the process is
crucial—having students represent
their understanding of a new term by
drawing a picture, pictograph, or
symbolic representation. When
students do this step well, achievement
should invite students to identify difficult terms and go over the crucial
aspects of those terms in a whole-class
Of course, we still have more to learn
about this strategy. But for now, it’s safe
to conclude that it can be a powerful
tool that teachers can use in classrooms
at any grade level and in any subject
Kluger, A. N., & DeNisi, A. (1996). The
effects of feedback interventions on
performance: A historical review, a meta-analysis, and a preliminary feedback
intervention theory. Psychological Bulletin,
119( 2), 254–284.
Marzano, R. J. (2004). Building background
knowledge for academic achievement:
Research on what works in schools.
Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
What Teacher Research Found
Over the last five years, I have been
involved in more than 50 studies that
involve this strategy. In all these studies,
teachers used the strategy with one class
but did not use it with another. Then
they compared the results.
These studies have taught us several
Robert J. Marzano is Cofounder and
CEO of Marzano Research Laboratory in
Denver, Colorado. He is the author of The
Art and Science of Teaching (ASCD,
2007) and coauthor, with Mark W.
Haystead, of Making Standards Useful in
the Classroom (ASCD, 2008). To contact
Marzano or participate in a study
regarding a specific instructional strategy,