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Learning Differences

How do you learn?

by Vicky Scott (revised, originally published in 2010)

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To explore the various methods for learning.

Preparation and materials

  • You will need a table and a pack of cards for the memory game in the Assembly, Step 1. Lay out a few pairs of cards, mixed-up and face down, on a table.

  • You might like to prepare slides of the learning styles that are discussed in the Assembly, Steps 6-9, to show as you talk through them, leaving them up for the ‘Time for reflection’ part of the assembly, too. If you do use some slides, you will also need the means to display them.


  1. Invite some students to play a memory game where they have to find matching pairs of cards. They should take it in turns to turn over two cards at a time, try to memorize them quickly and then turn them face down again. If the two cards match - for example, two sixes - they can put them to one side. The first student to find two matching pairs is the winner. Then, ask the students how they remembered the cards. Note that individuals probably worked differently from each other on the same task.

  2. Point out that some students may really enjoy studying, whereas others will not. There could be various reasons why people favour or dislike learning. One possible reason is that the subjects that people dislike are often the ones that they are not interested in because they don’t understand them or they don’t see their relevance. Every human upon this earth is unique, so it should be no surprise that we all work and learn differently. It is important to recognize our uniqueness and embrace it, especially where learning is concerned.

  3. Up to the age of 16 in the UK, students study compulsory subjects such as English, Maths, Science and PE. Because of this, there are bound to be some subjects that some students do not prefer, or even like.

  4. Exams may be stressful for some and seem pointless to others, but they are actually very important. They enable us to see how much information and understanding you have gained over the length of that particular course. Being told facts and points of view on a subject is of no use unless that information is stored in your brain. However, this storing is where so many people become frustrated. When it comes to revising, I am sure that many of you have felt like saying, ‘It just won’t go in and stay there.’ This may be because the way you are trying to remember that information is not best suited to your ideal way of learning.

  5. Some people will be able to read a book, remember everything they have learned and sail through their exams. However, for many others, this method would prove useless. They might try reading the whole book, but get stuck and end up reading and rereading in an attempt to make things stick. An alternative to this might be highlighting the main points as they read the book. Better still, they could note down the important bits as they go along, which might increase their chance of remembering the information.

  6. Psychologists believe that there are four types of learning style: visual learning, auditory learning, reading/writing preference learning and tactile learning.

    Visual learners remember best with the use of visual aids such as slides, diagrams and handouts. If you watch television or films and can easily recall scenes afterwards, this method of learning might be helpful to you. Try using visual aids as much as possible to increase your level of learning. If possible, watch relevant films or programmes.

    You could also try illustrating your reading: after reading a section of subject material, sketch a simple picture of the main items. If you’re a particularly skilled artist, perhaps revise by drawing a comic strip for each subject. This will serve as a reminder at the time of the exam about the main points to explore on the subject.

  7. Auditory learners remember things by using auditory reminders. If you can easily recall things that you have heard, this method of learning might be helpful to you. Try reading notes and handouts aloud. Only move on to the next section when you are able to repeat back the gist of the section without looking. This will mean that you have lodged the information in your short-term memory and, in time, it should enter your long-term memory bank. Another method could be to record yourself reading relevant information, and then play it back later. Repetition will increase the chances of retaining the information. Listening to others’ points of view on a subject may also offer some variety to your listening and learning.

  8. Reading/writing preference learners respond best to reading and writing about their subject. This simply means that you can remember and recall information that you have read in the past. Reading and writing work well together as a method: you read about your subject, and then write down the main points, which will help you to remember the relevant information at the time of the exam.

    Some people find it helpful to list the main issues within the subject. For example, for an essay about Mother Teresa, the list might comprise: (1) Nun; (2) Nurse; (3) Humanitarian; (4) Nobel Peace Prize winner. When they remember these subtitles, they can fill in the gaps and ensure that they have covered the subject, without desperately trying to write everything they know about it in one mass of information.

  9. Tactile learners are those who like to explore a subject as much as possible through moving, touching and feeling. For example, they don’t just want to read about the various types of chemicals, they want to see them in action. Practical experiments and experiences in subjects will help them to learn. Students may better understand a subject if they have been to a museum or exhibition, or, for example, if they have grown plants themselves and can fully comprehend the way in which they survive. If this is you, try to find practical means to bring your subject alive and make it understandable to you.

  10. Ask the students to think about which learning style might be their natural style. Students can use the model to identify their learning style and maximize their educational experience by focusing on what benefits them the most.

Time for reflection

Harvard, the oldest university in the USA, was founded a few years after the Pilgrims sailed on the Mayflower from England to America in 1620. Just outside Harvard, there is a commemorative inscription that reads: ‘After God had carried us safe to New England . . . one of the . . . things we longed for and looked after was to advance learning.’ The Plymouth Colony that those men and women founded would become the United States of America. Learning was held to be a key requirement for their development and growth.

I wonder which learning styles the various Pilgrims had. Spend a few moments thinking about which learning style applies to you. How can you use this information to learn more effectively today, and in the future?

Dear God,
Thank you for making us all unique and able to learn things in many different ways.
Help us to enjoy the gift of learning at school, at home or wherever we are.
Most of all, help us to keep learning and growing to be more like you in our daily lives.

Publication date: June 2017   (Vol.19 No.6)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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