Planning Lessons using the Principles of Sticky

Make it Sticky! (Sticky = understandable, memorable and effective in changing thought or behaviour.)

How do we get students to care about being healthy; to understand the notion of a mathematical function? Why should your students care that Victor Frankl lost his manuscript on psychological well-being? The brothers Chip and Dan Heath have explored the idea why some messages stick and why some disappear (Made to Stick, Arrow Books Ltd, 2008 They argue that the main reason why people, such as teachers, fail to create effective and memorable `sticky’ lessons is because of what they call `The Curse of Knowledge’. This refers to the notion that educators and presenters of information sometimes fail to see that abstractions, the wealth of knowledge which they have and which makes sense to them, may not make sense to the students.

If we are to ensure that our lessons become memorable and therefore `sticky’, according to the authors, we need to consider six simple principles:

*Simplicity        *Unexpectedness          *Concreteness                               *Credibility                      *Emotions         *Stories.


What is the core that students need to understand, the golden nugget, and how can you ensure they understand it? If you think about the topic, Titanic, issues such as inequalities, poverty and social despair might surface. However, if you start a series of lessons investigating the socioeconomic problems of the late Victorian period, you might see the enthusiastic spark disappear in many of the students’ faces.


Get the students’ interest by stimulating their curiosity through showing them there is a gap in their knowledge: how will it turn out? What is the answer? Using Thinking Skills mysteries in the classroom will achieve just that. There are lots of excellent examples of how effective these can be, some of which are available online (see an example from of how they can be used in MFL at

Making it concrete

Students’ experience of education can become abstract, particularly during transition phases such as the beginning of their GCSE and A Level, or when new units of work commence. Therefore, it is crucial that we make our message, why it matters, clear to our students. In 1992 Art Silverman worked for a charity which sought to educate the public about nutrition. He had been asked to inform people about the dangers of eating traditional cinema popcorn a medium-sized bag contained 37 grams of saturated fat… Eating this amount of fat is clearly very bad for you, but the message was not concrete enough for anyone really to understand that it was dangerous. Silverman had a light-bulb moment. The charity called a press conference in which he explained: `A medium-sized “butter” popcorn at a typical neighbourhood movie theatre contains more artery- clogging fat than a bacon and eggs breakfast, a Big Mac and fries for lunch, and a steak dinner with all the trimmings-combined!’


Making sure that students believe what you tell them is generally not a problem. Some research has suggested, however, that students more readily trust online material before teachers. Therefore, testing hypotheses is an important part of exam classes learning, so they understand that `facts’ vary from source to source.  By giving them the challenge to test a problem, students are more ready to believe, as they are in fact assessing its credibility and making an internal judgement about its trustworthiness.


Here is an example: Fill a page with dots (full stops size 20, bold) and you will have approximately 6000 dots. Photocopy it ten times. Give students a small piece of paper (no more than 2 x 2 cm) and ask them to draw one small dot for every person they know. Explain that most people probably have 15-30 people they know including classmates, neighbours, family and friends, and that as a class you have about 600 people you know. If you put together everyone from school you will probably have several thousands. Now scatter the A4 sheets across the classroom, nonchalantly, and explain that these sheets contain 6,000 dots (names of people) and that in order to get the full extent of the number of people murdered you need to multiply this by a thousand. The penny tends to drop after that.


“We have come to know man as he really is. After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord’s prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips”. Do you remember what Victor Frankl lost, which was mentioned at the start of this section? Maybe; possibly not. If we had told you the following story then you probably would have remembered:

Victor Frankl and his wife were arrested together with hundreds of other Jews in 1942, in Vienna, Austria.

Unbeknown to many, Frankl had developed a new theory of psychological well-being. Both he and his wife had anticipated what would happen to them so they had sewn the manuscript of the book he was writing into the lining of his coat. Victor and his wife Tilly were later transported to Auschwitz and the manuscript was eventually found and destroyed. Frankl began rewriting his work from scratch, on bits of paper, and he had to endure the death of his entire family: his wife, brother, mother and father all died in the concentration camps. When the Allies liberated his camp in 1946 he had completed what was to become according to the New York Times, one of the most influential books of all time. (A Man’s Search for Meaning).

We know that planning all lessons based on a series of principles may not be possible all the time. However, by considering these ideas, coupled with lashings of our own creativity, we can produce powerful, purposeful lessons which contain enriching tasks that will ensure skills and learning progression for all classes.

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I am a History teacher who is enthusiastic about new technology, new ideas and music.

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