How to Apply Ideas from a Reading Selection to Other Situations

Applying what we learn from books to other situations in life helps us grow and improve. This lesson demonstrates how to apply ideas from a text to other situations and how to teach this important skill to readers.

The Transfer of Learning

In life, we often apply what we learn from one situation to other situations. For example, most of us learn to drive a car as teenagers. When we went from the car we learned on to another vehicle, we applied what we knew in order to operate a car that might be slightly different even though the same basic ideas applied. Similarly, when we read a novel or informational text, we can apply ideas from that reading selection to other situations in order to build on our knowledge.

The transfer of learning, in regards to education, is the theory that what is learned can be transferred and applied in new and innovative ways to different situations. When this transfer occurs, it can be employing meanings, general ideas, or insights in different ways within a different context. Think of the transfer of learning as a suitcase, since the goal of learning is to transfer the information to the student and then he or she can carry that information with him or her, using it in new places and in new ways. By doing this, students are using higher-order thinking to think more creatively and analytically about what they are reading and how it applies to other situations.

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Now, in the basic transfer of learning, a skill such as learning to drive a car or how to use the quadratic formula is applied to different cars and different math problems. But on a more advanced level, the transfer of learning takes a general idea and applies it in very different situations. One example would be when you learn a strategy used in a game of chess and then apply it as a strategy to use in politics.

How to Apply Ideas

To encourage students to apply ideas to other situations, we need to:

  • Help students identify common factors in different situations
  • Guide them to recognize similar patterns or situations so that they can ‘think outside the box’ and apply them to different areas of study

Here’s an example of how to teach this to beginning readers. Dr. Seuss’s book Green Eggs and Ham involves a character named Sam-I-Am who tries to convince the narrator to try green eggs and ham. He suggests different locations and dining partners and, in the end, the narrator finally breaks down and tries green eggs and ham, and actually loves it. The book’s message is to try new foods even if they look weird, but this message is not explicitly stated. So, you explain this message to students and help them identify experiences where they have felt like the narrator who didn’t want to try new foods no matter where he was or who he was eating with.

After identifying those common factors, you can ask them to share their experiences with trying new foods, and even encourage them to take that lesson home with them and apply it to the similar situation of trying whatever is served for dinner that night. This is a clear-cut way of applying an idea to a different situation, and it’s a great way to get students thinking about how they can use what they learn in the classroom for situations outside of the classroom.

When reading an informational text about antibodies to a group of intermediate readers, we might ask the students what these protective antibodies remind them of. We could point to specific phrases used in the text, such as fighting unwanted materials and destroying the invaders, and ask if they sound like something or someone else who acts that way. Students will probably suggest that the antibodies are like soldiers.

Then let’s say a week later you are reading about the American Indian Wars between the Native Americans and the European settlers, telling students that the Natives often banded together to fight against the settlers who they saw as invaders. You could encourage students to apply the idea of antibodies acting like soldiers to this different situation by saying, ‘Think back to something else that bands together to fight against invaders.’ This helps guide students to see the connection between two subject areas because a similar idea was applied from science to history.

For a more advanced learner who has had practice applying ideas from texts to other situations, advanced readers can apply themes to current events. One example would be applying Romeo and Juliet‘s theme of two warring sides passing down hatred from one generation to the next to gang violence in the U.S. and/or in other countries. By discussing that theme first in literature and then applying it to a real-world example, it connects students to the text on a deeper level since they can then recognize that Romeo and Juliet is still relevant today, and they can possibly relate to the characters in a more meaningful way. This could also be a starting point to encourage students to problem-solve these issues by examining the effects of violence and revenge and how it was dealt with by the characters versus how it is dealt with by gang members, police officers, and the government and perhaps better ways of dealing with it to stop and/or prevent more violence from occurring.

Questions to Encourage Application

There are many different ways to encourage students to apply ideas from a reading selection to other situations. They can apply ideas in three ways:

  1. Text-to-self (applying an idea or event from one text to yourself and/or your experiences)
  2. Text-to-text (applying an idea from one text to a similar idea presented in another text)
  3. Text-to-world (applying an idea from one text to the world)

An example of text-to-self would be a student applying the concept of trying new foods from Green Eggs and Ham to his or her own life. Here are some key phrases that the teacher can use to model text-to-self connections, and he or she can have students use them to make text-to-self connections:

  • If that happened to me I would…
  • I can relate to…because one time;
  • This reminds me of when I;
  • I would solve this problem by…

A text-to-text connection was discussed when I mentioned students reading about antibodies in an informational text and then reading about the American Indian Wars in a historical text a week later. Students applied the idea of how antibodies act toward invaders to how the Native Americans acted toward European settlers. Some statements to prompt text-to-text connections are:

  • This reminds me of another book I’ve read because both…
  • This character is acting like (character’s name) from…
  • I read a textbook/news article that talked about this same issue of…in…

In order for students to apply ideas by making text-to-world connections, they need the necessary background knowledge about the world. So, teachers need to build that before reading a related text so that students are able to make those connections. For example, when reading Romeo and Juliet, if students live in an area unaffected by gang violence, then discussing it with a news article before or while reading Romeo and Juliet would help them apply the play’s ideas around this issue to the current state of gang violence. Here are some phrases that the teacher can use as a model and students can use to discuss text-to-world connections:

  • This conflict in the text reminds me of (issue) going on today in…
  • When (character) reacted by…it reminded me of how (person or group) reacts to…today
  • This event reminds me of when…happens here because in both instances…
  • I wonder what would happen if we did what they did right here in…

Lesson Summary

By encouraging students to apply ideas from a reading selection to their own lives, to other texts, and to the world around them, we’re promoting higher-order thinking. Students are not only able to know and comprehend what they have read, they are also able to apply those ideas to other situations to show that they can understand concepts on a deeper level and think creatively.

In regards to education, the transfer of learning is the theory that what is learned can be transferred and applied in new and innovative ways to different situations. To get students to apply ideas to other situations, we must:

  • Help students identify common factors in different situations
  • Guide them to recognize similar patterns or situations so that they can ‘think outside the box’ and apply them to different areas of study

Students can apply ideas from a text in three different ways:

  1. Text-to-self (applying an idea or event from one text to yourself and/or your experiences)
  2. Text-to-text (applying an idea from one text to a similar idea presented in another text)
  3. Text-to-world (applying an idea from one text to the world)

By emphasizing the application of ideas, teachers are showing students that they can relate to a text, understand it on a deeper level, and take that new knowledge with them to use in different ways rather than simply reading a text to obtain information and remember it.

Learning Outcomes

After watching this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Define the transfer of learning theory
  • Interpret how to get students to apply ideas from one text to real-world experiences
  • Identify questions to utilize during application of ideas and the categories (text-to-self, text-to-text, text-to-world) that they fall into
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