Learn with Explanations

Explanations Can Improve Learning

Because explanations can be written or spoken, and because you use them in many ways, they can improve your Understanding of the subject, your Thinking Skills, your Writing and Speaking Skills.

What kind of things can you explain?

In the picture, you see three friends studying together. Roseanne, the girl in green is really good in math. Here, she is explaining how to do a difficult word problem.  Explaining how to do a problem is good for Roseanne too. Teaching someone else is one of the best strategies to understand and remember what you learn.  In fact, in a simple experiment, two groups of students were given the same article to read. One group was told they’d be tested on the information. The other group was told they would need to explain the information to someone else. Those expecting to teach the information made higher scores on the test. Perhaps they concentrated on how to explain the information rather than trying to simply memorize the facts.

1. how to solve a math problem.
2. the plot of the novel you are reading
3. a procedure, like following instructions for a lab
4. the main ideas in a chapter in you textbook or in a lectureA boy and two girls are studying together
5. the conclusion in a lab report or at the end of an essay
6. methods to study for a test or to make cookies
7. why you take a certain stand on a controversial issue
8. why you (or a friend) should be elected president of your class
9. your evaluation or critique of a book, work of art, piece of music, movie, or a meal
10. the main idea (thesis) of your essay or term paper and the evidence supporting that thesis
and this list could go on and on and on.

What makes a good explanation or argument?

A good explanation or argument begins with understanding your audience. You might write an explanation of photosynthesis to review for a test. You might explain it to a friend or younger sister who doesn’t know what it means. You might write an explanation on a test, knowing that your teacher understands it well and expects to to mention many important details and a more formal way of writing.

You might talk to a friend about why he should vote for you as class president or you might make a speech to your entire class. Your content and style will be different.

1. To explain a definition, you might give the formal definition or tell what it means in your own words. You might add several examples of how the word is used in different sentences.

2. To explain a concept such as acceleration, you might explain the term in the usual ways, or put it in your own words and give examples.

3. To explain a process like solving a math problem or something like photosynthesis or mitosis, you might begin with a context. Photosynthesis is a process that takes place only in green plants. It is the plants way of using Carbon Dioxide and water to make food.

Then you would describe the process, one step at a time. Explaining this to someone unfamiliar with the concept, you might draw a diagram or use a diagram from a book.

4. To explain how to do something – doing a lab experiment or baking cookies – you might begin with the needed equipment and supplies, then describe each step and what should happen. You could also mention potential problems and what to do about them.

5. In a critique or report where you offer a judgment like a book report, or your evaluation of a movie, artwork, music, etc. You should explain what you liked best, what you didn’t like and why. State your conclusion (opinion) and and your main reasons for coming to that opinion.

6. To explain why you believe something involving a controversial issue, do not just tell them that you are right and they are wrong. Explain your reasons for your position. You might include statistics, experimental evidence, the consequences of believing otherwise, and good examples.

7. Writing a good essay or term paper is similar. Once you have read all the information on a subject, you should develop a thesis (your statement about the meaning or interpretation of the research). It is a good idea to start with questions about the information and your thesis would be your answer. After stating the question and your answer, you need supporting information. It will not help to say it just sounded right or seemed obvious. You need supporting evidence, statistics when available, or good reasons. You should move step by step from the evidence and examples, using logical reasoning to show why your thesis is a good one.

In scientific thinking, you would put forth a hypothesis (note that the word thesis is part of the word, hypothesis), do experiments or study research done by others, and come to a conclusion that might or might not prove your hypothesis true or false.  In most subjects, you cannot prove a thesis, you can only describe the evidence and examples that support that thesis.

Using Explanations to Learn

Writing a clear explanation will help you review the information you are studying. Writing an explanation on topics likely to appear on an essay test, help you do better on the test both on the content of your responses, and on improving your writing skills. Writing a good explanation on your position on a controversial issue will make it easier for you to discuss or argue for your position. In other words, you will both improve your own understanding on he topic and improve your skills in communicating what you know and believe.


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