Why Try to Explain What You are Learning?

This article is part of the teaching tip "Five Keys to Helping Students Read Difficult Texts"

  • Trying to explain gives you feedback about the state of your knowledge.  If you can’t explain what you have read, you probably do not understand it.  Explaining shows you where the holes are in your understanding and motivates you to search for answers and a more complete view.
  • Explaining well gives you a sense of ownership over the material.  You can do more than parrot information—it is yours because of all the connections you have made to the text in the act of explaining it.  You have become a co-author of this text.
  • Explaining deepens your understanding.  In the very act of explaining, the information becomes clear to you.  The examples you generate and the questions your listener asks help you formulate your understandings that would not have happened without this opportunity to explain.  You talk your way to a fuller understanding and toward more insights about the ideas in the text.   
  • Explaining forces you to see the organization of your learning so you can present it in a coherent way.
  • It compels you to formulate a coherent synthesis at the start of the explanation and then to express how the parts relate to each other. 
  • The multisensory experiences involved in explaining a text (saying, hearing what you say, using gestures, drawing it, listening to others reactions, rereading parts to emphasize, pointing to the text, showing an illustration, etc.) make remembering the material easier because it has been put into long-term memory from several angles.
  • Explaining to someone can also strengthen memory because of the social connections made to the material.  You will remember the material better because you will recall the situation—the place, the people, the feelings while explaining, the questions that came up, the discussion—all contribute to being able to recall the information.



Tip conributed by:
Marné B. Isakson, Ph.D. (marne_isakson@byu.edu)
Developer of courses: Advanced Reading Strategies for College Success and Surviving College Reading
Author of Learn More & Read Faster: A Handbook of Advanced Reading Strategies for College Success and Surviving College Reading: A Handbook of Essential Strategies for College Success. 
For more information please contact Taylor Halverson, Teaching and Learning Consultant