Home > Educational Neuroscience > Using Practice Effectively With Young Students

Using Practice Effectively With Young Students

Practice allows the learner to use the newly learned skill in a new situation with sufficient accuracy so that it will be correctly remembered. Before students begin practice, the teacher should model the thinking process involved and guide the class through each
step of the new learning’s application.

Since practice makes permanent, the teacher should monitor the students’ early practice to ensure that it is accurate and to provide timely feedback and correction if it is not. This guided practice helps eliminate initial errors and alerts students to the critical steps in applying new skills. Here are some suggestions by Hunter (2004) for guiding initial practice, especially as it applies to young students:

Limit the amount of material to practice. Practice should be limited to the smallest amount of material or skill that has the most relevancy for the students. This allows for sense and meaning to be consolidated as the learner uses the new learning. Remember that most preadolescents can deal with only about five items in working memory at one time. 

Limit the amount of time to practice. Practice should take place in short, intense periods of time when the student’s working memory is running on prime time. When the practice period is short, students are more likely to be intent on learning what they are practicing. Keep in mind the 5- to 10-minute time limits of working memory for preadolescents.

Determine the frequency of practice. New learning should be practiced frequently at first so that it is quickly organized (massed practice). Vary the contexts in which the practice is carried out to maintain interest. Young students tire easily of repetitive work that lacks interest. To retain the information in long-term memory and to remember how to use it accurately, students should continue the practice over increasingly longer time intervals (distributed practice), which is the key to accurate retention and application of information and mastery of skills over time.

Assess the accuracy of practice.As students perform guided practice, give prompt and specific feedback on whether the practice is correct or incorrect, and why. Ask the students to summarize your feedback comments in their own words. This process gives you valuable information about the degree of student understanding and whether it makes sense to move on or reteach portions that may be difficult for some students.

Testing as a Form of Practice

Most people think the purpose of a written test is to evaluate a student’s achievement in the area being tested. That is a very limited view. Written tests can tell us so much more. For example, written tests can

  • Allow students to practice what they have learned
  • Give teachers information about what each student has learned
  • Help teachers analyze how successful they were at teaching their lesson objectives

With younger students, teachers should consider using written tests mainly for practice and recording the score of only every third or fourth paper. Oral tests are a good substitute because they are less stressful, and some younger students are better at telling you what they know than writing it.


Hunter, M. (2004). Mastery teaching. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

  1. September 17, 2012 at 5:36 pm

    Reblogged this on mrsbeaudette and commented:
    Aren’t we doing this already? and if not, why aren’t you?

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