One of the most powerful techniques to help students remember what they have learned and apply it to a range of situations is the assignment to write letters to themselves.
By Dr. Fred Mayo, CHE, CHT
Last month, we discussed helping students take charge of their lives by using journals. This month, we will examine the power of personal letter writing as a way to encourage recognition of what students have learned and motivate them to apply it.
Almost any kind of writing helps students improve their writing and, usually, the clarity of their thinking. Students—and professionals—who cannot write something clear are typically not able to think clearly about the topic or think about it in an organized manner. Therefore, any writing assignment that asks for careful structure and logic will make a difference in a student’s education. Simply regurgitating definitions does not make a difference. Writing research papers, creating project reports, answering essay questions on a test, preparing reaction papers and developing reflection papers all help students organize their thoughts as well as build connection among ideas. Writing assignments also improve students’ recall of information.
Writing Letters to Myself
One of the most powerful techniques to help students and trainees remember what they have learned and apply it to a range of situations outside of the classroom is the assignment to write a letter to self. At the end of a course or specific topic, ask them to write themselves a letter describing what they have learned and how they plan to use it in the near future. When they get the letter some time later, it reminds them of what they learned and what they intended to do with their newly acquired information or skills.