Schema Theory in Teaching

This is the second reflective writing assignment for the course “Instructional Strategies” I am taking towards my Provincial Instructor Diploma at Vancouver Community College”

Chapter 3 of Student Engagement Techniques (Barkley, 2020) introduces several very interesting facets of learning. For this reflective writing assignment, I decided to explore the learning-factor “Schemata”. Schemata is the plural of the Greek word schema.


Schemata are groups of information in long-term memory. Our brain attaches new information much more efficiently to pre-existing knowledge.

Paul Fulbrook (Fulbrook, 2020) describes it on his website as follows:

Schemas [sic] are categories of information stored in long-term memory. A schema contains groups of linked memories, concepts or words. This grouping of things acts as a cognitive shortcut, making storing new things in your long-term memory and retrieval of them much quicker and more efficient.


I found schema theory fascinating because it opens the opportunity for students to learn more material in a shorter time frame. Learning about this will also help me with my own learning. If we are aware of where new information attaches to existing information, we can make connections easier and facilitate adding the learned material to our long-term memory.


If we can tap into the knowledge our students already possess or build a schema before we teach new material we can enable our students to internalize more material faster and create a higher rate of retention. There are a few challenges to schemata that we have to be aware of:

  1. Students retain information in clusters that are not necessarily connected (Buschkuehl, n.d.). We have to help them make the appropriate connections.
  2. Existing schemata can negatively affect learning. Marc Smith (Smith, 2020) describes an experiment on his blog where a group of study subjects rapidly remembered details according to their preconceived beliefs rather than the facts.
  3. In usual classrooms, we assume that students have the same level of education and similar background and therefore similar schemata we can build on. In a trades environment (especially in gateway or foundation classes), we often have students from a wide range of cultural, socio-economic and educational backgrounds and we need to be cognizant of this. (Smith, 2020)


Used wisely, I see large potential in using schema theory to my advantage in teaching. The before mentioned challenges need to be taken into account to maximize the learning effect.
In their article Schemata and Instructional Strategies, Czarnec and Hill (Czarnec, 2018) explain a good strategy of “activating” appropriate schemata in their students to make sure that they have a chance to all be on the same level as well as facilitating the connection of the correct schemata in their long term memory. Students are asked to view the topic from a different perspective and find how the topic may connect to previous knowledge.

Safety Week

Next week I will be teaching a class in our Women in Trades and Technology program about fire safety. This comes after the students learned about other safety topics all week. I will make sure to review the other safety topics before adding a new one, hoping to activate the existing schemata and making sure the students are at the same level of knowledge. I will also see if any of the students have first-hand experience in the area.

Structure of the material

Another strategy Czarnec and Hill’s article (Czarnec, 2018) seems helpful: Structuring the material into coherent, clear components. This will be useful for my students. It will help to connect the learned material with previous knowledge and provide a guiding path through the material of the day. I will provide a mindmap or other graphical means for my students that show the connections of the material.


Barkley, E. F. (2020). Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty, John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated.

Buschkuehl, M. (n.d.). Schemata in Education. Retrieved from

Czarnec, H. (2018, 3 19). Schemata and Instructional Strategies. Retrieved from

Fulbrook, P. (2020, August 17). Schema Theory. Retrieved from Teacher of Sci:

Smith, M. (2020, March 5). The (cultural) problem with schemas and education. Retrieved from

Sharing is caring ❤️
Scroll to Top