Explain First

Resources, ideas and prompts for discussion related to Explanation

Preparing explanations in advance of lessons and using them first

We often have a desire for learners to find out or discover things for themselves, and there are some instances when this might happen or could be supported, but more often that not we need accept that with new concepts learners will highly likely have very little prior knowledge and without which, a voyage of discovery could prove quite fruitless.

The ‘Explanation’ chapter of ‘Making Every Lesson Count’ gives an example of a humorous yet perhaps all too typical exchange when you ask a question and there is a lack of prior knowledge:

Teacher: Who can give us the definition of oxymoron?

Student 1: Um, bit like a cow that is silly?

Student 2: No, a contrast…of two things.

Teacher: Closer!

Student 3: Oh I get it, a small cow – like a contrast!

These form of exchanges can continue, with everyone, teacher included, getting more confused about what this might have been about and where it was going! The teacher will then invariably attempt to hit the reset and provide ‘the answer’ but you may be left with Student 3 and his or her peers still holding on to what they said as gospel. A clear explanation to launch it all can potentially help avoid introducing misconceptions as an unintended consequence. Instead then the scenario above is replaced with an explanation (that could be spoken and reinforced through display of a definition), perhaps as follows:

“An oxymoron occurs when we place two opposite terms next to each other. You may have experienced this. For example ‘sweet sorrow’, raise your hand if you have ever felt a little happy and a little sad at the same time…Yes, me too! This morning I felt sad as I had to say goodbye to my daughter when I dropped her off at the nursery, however I was also happy to see her waving at me through the window and smiling…You may have come across other examples such as ‘a deafening silence’ or ‘pretty ugly’. These phrases both contain words with opposite meanings placed next to each other, just like all oxymorons. Can you think of any other examples?”

Linking this back to the introduction on explanations it draws on making the description simple, concrete and emotional.

Often the teacher will trump the reference book or the dictionary too as in the case of the example given above the dictionary definition is ‘Oxymoron, noun. a figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction (e.g. faith unfaithful kept him falsely true ).‘ This would more than likely cause more difficulty in understanding.

Associated further reading and references:

  • ‘Chapter 2: Explanation’, in Allison, S. and Tharby, A., 2017. Making Every Lesson Count. Carmarthen: Crown House.