SIP 6.8 Chunking

Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?

Our working memory can only hold about seven items of information at a time (Miller, 1956). Breaking skills into bite-sized chunks and mastering them one at a time until the learner reaches fluency is a more efficient way of learning. Understanding and retaining complex information or lists of dates, facts or events can be challenging–but learning how to “chunk” information can be useful. This strategy can facilitate better retrieval of the information that students have to memorize and/or understand.

Take a SIP of This: Chunking

The instructor should examine the manner in which students will learn new content and determine how best to divide the content into small digestible, bites of information. While there are many strategies for learning to chunk complex information into more manageable parts, there are two main components to chunking: identifying the chunks, and grouping and memorizing the chunks.

Identifying the chunks: Have students identify similarities, patterns or comparisons in the information. (

Grouping and memorizing the chunks: Once the comparisons/similarities are identified, students can group or organize the information into chunks that make sense to them and memorize them. They can do this by creating a visual, such as a symbol or image. This is a great method to use for visual learners. Another method is to instruct students to write down the “bits” of information on index cards. Have students lay the cards out in front of them and then organize the information based on similarities. Students should be able to provide a rationale for their connections.

Some class activities that you can use to teach chunking:

Assess and Share Have students read an article or perhaps a passage, then have students compare their versions of the text. This activity can lead to discussions about interpretation – how people can find different meaning in the same text.

Jigsaw Chunking: You can divide a longer text (such as chapters) into sections and have small groups work on summarizing each section. Groups can share the meaning of their section with the rest of the class by using the Jigsaw strategy (for more information using Jigsaw see this SIP: Cooperative Learning Strategies: Using Jigsaw) or by having small-group presentations. (

Still Thirsty? Take another SIP of Chunking

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