Book Reviews,  Instructional / Course Design,  Instructional Strategies

Ideas that ‘Stick’

[social-bio] The Book:

Heath, C. and Heath, D. 2008.  Made to stick: Why some ideas survive and others die.  New York: Random House

Why do we remember certain things, like the scary music from the movie Jaws, but forget others, like the name of that theory we learned in economics class years ago?  Why is it easier for some people to remember an urban legend about missing kidneys than a concept they studied in the college or university classroom?  Why do some ideas “stick” while others are just as easily forgotten?

This question is the premise of the New York Times bestseller book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die in which a sticky idea is described as “an idea that’s understood, that’s remembered, and that changes something (opinions, behaviors, values).”

Made to Stick

For many professionals, including educators, journalists, politicians, marketers – and even bloggers- the job is about communicating information in a way that it will “stick.”  Using provocative examples, humorous anecdotes, and real-life success stories, the book champions the six following principles for transforming an “unsticky” idea – think of a mathematical function – into something that is “sticky” – think of crickets (If you want to know how mathematical functions and crickets are related, go on and read the book):

  1. Simple
  2. Unexpected
  3. Concrete
  4. Credible
  5. Emotional
  6. Story

Using practical examples that tap into the cognitive and affective domains, the book explains how to make ideas from any discipline “stick” in a multitude of contexts.

The free online article, “Teaching that Sticks” (at is an excellent guide that explains how to use simple yet engaging tools such as generative analogies, schemas, stories, and curiosity gaps.  Beginning your lecture with a curiosity gap, for example, is as simple as designing your lecture with a question to pique students’ curiosity and then slowly unfolding the lecture in such a way that the answer to the question is explored like the plot of a mystery:

“Piquing curiosity is the holy grail of teaching.  Cialdini said, “You’ve heard of the famous Ah ha! experience, right?  Well, the Ah ha! experience is much more satisfying when it’s preceded by the Huh? experience… Movies cause us to ask, What will happen?  Mystery novels cause us to ask, Who did it?. . . Unexpected ideas, by opening a knowledge gap, tease and flirt.  They mark a big red X on something that needs to be discovered but don’t tell you necessarily how to get there” (pg 4, Teaching That Sticks).

Do something unexpected for your teaching and pick up a copy of this book.  Maybe you’ll discover a link between the theme music from Jaws and that economic theory that students always seem to forget.  At the very least, you’ll discover some fresh ideas for making your teaching “stick.”

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