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Frequently Asked Questions


What types of learning strategies are there?

Learning strategies have been categorized in various ways. One way is to divide them into cognitive and metacognitive strategies. Cognitive strategies are those strategies that can be applied to learning problems, such as paraphrasing, re-reading, estimating, outlining, or guessing from context.

Metacognition (Flavell, 1976) refers to the knowledge and regulation of the act or process of knowing. This can include knowledge about oneself, knowledge about the cognitive demands of tasks, and knowledge about both cognitive and metacognitive learning strategies. Metacognitive learning strategies include recognizing when a strategy is needed, selecting strategies, memorizing or rehearsing strategies, and assessing the helpfulness of strategies. Borkowski, Estrada, Milstead, and Hale (1989) suggest that, for students with learning disabilities, two aspects of metacognition are key: executive processes (such as selection of appropriate strategies) and attributional beliefs (such as the belief that effort will improve performance).

How does one go about selecting learning strategies to teach?

First, note the process of implementation described by the developers of the strategy. Do students need certain prerequisite skills to benefit from the strategy? What do the developers recommend telling students about the strategy before they learn it? What benefits should the teacher tell students to expect? How should materials be selected for use with the strategy? For example, is a reading strategy designed to work best with expository or with narrative text?

Is there a “best practice” approach to teaching learning strategies?

Schumaker and Deshler (1992) developed and validated an instructional sequence of steps for teachers to use in teaching various learning strategies to students. These are:

  1. Pretest: Measure students’ skills prior to training and get their commitment to learning.
  2. Describe: Explain the steps of the strategy, where the strategy can be applied, and how the strategy will be beneficial to students.
  3. Model: Demonstrate how to use the strategy by “thinking aloud” while applying the strategy to content material.
  4. Verbal practice: Students memorize the strategy steps and key usage requirements.
  5. Controlled practice: Ensure student mastery of the strategy using simplified materials in controlled settings.
  6. Grade-appropriate practice: Ensure student mastery of the strategy in situations similar to those in the student’s general education classrooms.
  7. Posttest: Measure students’ skills following training.
  8. Generalization: Help students apply strategies in general education and nonacademic settings. (Boudah & O’Neill, 1999; Ellis, Deshler, Lenz, Schumaker, & Clark, 1991).

It is also important to teach prerequisite skills in advance, and to check the mastery of these skills periodically during strategy instruction. In addition, mnemonics (strategies that aid memory and recall) are also useful in helping students remember strategies. (See section below, “What memory aids are helpful to students?”)

What about teaching learning strategies at the postsecondary level?

Authors of the Web site Writing@CSU ( (Colorado State University) discuss the teaching of reading and writing strategies for students with learning disabilities at the college level, and suggest an eight-step process for introducing a new strategy in an individualized instructional setting. This sequence is similar in many ways to the eight-step process described by Schumaker and Deshler (1992), which is described above. The Writing @CSU process includes the following steps:

  1. Introducing strategies and setting goals;
  2. Preskill development (helping students learn prerequisite skills);
  3. Discussion of the strategy;
  4. Modeling the strategy;
  5. Providing scaffolding (support while learning, such as memory aids);
  6. Practice;
  7. Feedback; and
  8. Implementation.

For further information, visit the Web site referenced above.

What memory aids are helpful to students?

Strategies designed to aid memory and recall are called mnemonics (nee-MON-iks). Many mnemonics rely on making a word or phrase out the first letters of items in a list, for example, some people remember the order of the planets in the solar system (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto) by using the following mnemonic: “My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas.” Other mnemonics use rhymes, music, or other devices to help students access information. Many mnemonics are relatively familiar, such as SQ3R (Study, Question, Read, Recite, Review), originally developed by Robinson (1946).

Some educators and researchers have developed mnemonics specifically to help students with disabilities. One example is the Word Identification Strategy that is part of the Strategic Instruction Model (Lenz & Hughes, 1990). In this learning strategy, there are seven steps to identifying an unknown word. The steps are remembered using the first-letter mnemonic, DISSECT:

  • Discover the context;
  • Isolate the prefix;
  • Separate the suffix;
  • Say the stem;
  • Examine the stem;
  • Check with someone; and
  • Try the dictionary.

This strategy is described in detail in the NCSET Research-to-Practice Brief, Improving Word Identification Skills Using Strategic Instruction Model (SIM) Strategies available on this Web site at

There are several resources that provide tips on making up new mnemonics. These include Mastropieri & Scruggs, 1991, and Willoughby & Wood, 1995 (see references below).

Some strategies have not been validated by research. How can I tell if a new or emerging strategy is likely to be effective?

Not all strategies are effective, and some that are effective are not very efficient in terms of the time and effort required. Ellis and Lenz (1987) identified a number of critical features of strategies that work well for students with disabilities. These features fall into three categories: content (the steps in the strategy and their role in the learning process); design (how the steps are put together as a package); and usefulness (transferability of the strategy to other settings and needs).


Borkowski, J. G., Estrada, M. T., Milstead, M., & Hale, C. A. (1989). General problem-solving skills: Relations between metacognition and strategic processes. Learning Disability Quarterly, 12, 57-70.

Boudah, D. J. & O’Neill, K. J. (1999). Learning Strategies. (ERIC/OSEP Digest #E577). Reston, VA: ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education. Retrieved from ERIC database. (ED 433669) Retrieved from

Colorado State University. (n.d.). Writing@CSU. Retrieved from

Ellis, E. S., Deshler, D. D., Lenz, B. K., Schumaker, J. B., & Clark, F. L. (1991). An instructional model for teaching learning strategies. Focus on Exceptional Children, 23(6), 124.

Ellis, E. S., & Lenz, B. K. (1987). A component analysis of effective learning strategies for LD students. Learning Disabilities Focus, 2(2), 94-107.

Flavell, J. H. (1976). Metacognitive aspects of problem solving. In Resnick (Ed.), The nature of intelligence (pp. 231-235). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Lenz, B. K., & Hughes, C. A. (1990). A word identification strategy for adolescents with learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 23(3), 149-158.

Mastropieri, M. A., & Scruggs, T. E. (1991). Teaching students ways to remember: Strategies for learning mnemonically. Cambridge, MA: Brookline.

Robinson, F. P. (1946). Effective study. New York: Harper & Row.

Schumaker, J. B., & Deshler, D. D. (1992). Validation of learning strategy interventions for students with learning disabilities: Results of a programmatic research effort. In B. Y. L. Wong (Ed.), Contemporary intervention research in learning disabilities: An international perspective (pp. 22-46). New York: Springer-Verlag.

Willoughby, T. & Wood, E. (1995). Mnemonic strategies. In E. Wood, V. E. Woloshyn, & T. Willoughby (Eds.), Cognitive strategy instruction for middle and high schools (pp. 5-17). Cambridge, MA: Brookline.

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