Lesson 5: Advice for Educators About How to Teach the Study Cycle

  • The secret behind how to teach the Study Cycle in under 10 minutes 
  • Seven qualities of an effective “mini-lecture”
  • Common problems (and solutions!) when teaching the Study Cycle for the first time

Hi there educators!

IN the last three lessons you shared the space with students and parents.

Now they have peeled off (though parents, it’s just fine if you’re still reading along…I know some of y’all are curious…and students, you are welcome too, especially if you’d like to know how to share the Study Cycle with your peers in a way they’ll remember), and we get to talk privately, educator to educator.

You just got to watch me teaching the Study Cycle to students. That was purposeful. I wanted to model how to address students, so that you can start to envision how that might work in your own environment — whether that’s a classroom; counseling, coaching, or tutoring session; or wherever you’re moved to work with students about their own learning. 

In this lesson I want to discuss the pedagogy behind about WHY the Study Cycle works so well, and give you a few more tips about how to teach it with your students. 

There is method to the madness, and I’d like to reveal the inner workings of why such a simple five minute conversation with students can pack such a punch.

Now they have peeled off (though parents, it’s just fine if you’re still reading along…I know some of y’all are curious…and students, you are welcome too, especially if you’d like to know how to share the Study Cycle with your peers in a way they’ll remember), and we get to talk privately, educator to educator.

 Let’s look at this by taking a closer look at why the Study Cycle is successful. 

  • First of all, it is a simple, bite-size piece of information. It takes no more than 10 minutes to teach, and often only 5 minutes once you get good at it.
  • Second, a good mini-lecture is divided into concrete parts. In the case of the Study Cycle, it is in three distinct parts. As Aristotle taught good storytelling happens in “threes”. The three steps of the Study Cycle are the best consolidation I know of complex brain science. It’s easy for students to remember. Most of the Anti-Boring Mini-Lectures (there are 7+ minilectures at this point) can be broken down into 3 or 5 part sections, which is great for student learning. 
  • Third, the Study Cycle is visual. Because it’s visual, students can draw it out at the same time that it’s being explained. Drawing is a kinesthetic process. Therefore, the process of TEACHING the Study Cycle uses multiple ways of processing information, what I like to call “senses”.
  • Fourth, it incorporates teacher-generated questions so that the student has an opportunity to reflect actively in the midst of the learning.
  • Fifth, it has some unexpected and surprising elements to it. Often when I teach the study cycle, after I explain Step One and Encoding, I like to say, “Most students stop here! This is all they do when they learn. They encode over and over again by reading and rereading their notes and textbooks. But there are two more steps to the Study Cycle that students rarely do. Any idea what those are?!” This question piques students’ curiosity, and has them start looking for the unexpected information.
  • Sixth, it’s credible. It’s based on concrete brain-science. I tell this to my students over and over again, and this helps peak their interest as well.


Seventh, well, I’m not going to tell you about this one yet. The SEVENTH component of an excellent Mini-Lecture is something I’m going to cover in a little bit 🙂 Stay tuned.


These six elements — simple, concrete, visual, active, unexpected and credible —  makes the Study Cycle Mini-Lecture particularly sticky in the minds of students. They  remember it fairly easily. When it’s incorporated over and over into tutoring and teaching, students quickly learn how to change their studying so that it’s Study Cycle friendly. And then they start noticing their learning (and their grades!) increasing.


Most of these six elements are present in the other Anti-Boring Mini-Lectures as well. Because I’m sure you’re curious, here is a complete list of the Mini-Lectures I teach educators in the Art of Inspiring Students to Study Strategically 8-week course.


The Anti-Boring Mini-Lectures
Name Purpose
1. The Study Cycle This mini-lecture is designed to teach students an overview of complex brain science.
2. The Indiana Jones Metaphor for Learning
3. Neural Pathways
4. The Formula for How to Learn Anything
These 3 Mini-Lectures work together to teach students more — and memorable! — details about brain science: how neural pathways are created in the brain, how the brain is constantly growing and changing, and a simple formula for tying it all together.
5. The Study Senses
6. Get It Down & Hone It Notes
These two Mini-Lectures help students understand exactly how to encode in new ways — by learning using multiple “senses” and by taking powerful notes. The Study Senses are an alternative to teaching students about Learning Styles, which are no longer considered a best practice.
7. Quizzable Study Tools
8. 3 Levels of Questions
These Mini-Lectures help students understand how to practice retrieval and test themselves. The 3 Levels of Questions helps them consciously use higher order thinking skills, to ask richer questions in the quizzable study tools they make for themselves.
9. Spaced Retrieval
10. Working Memory
These two Mini-Lectures are introduced to help students understand the link between time management and effective studying, and to help them plan ahead more effectively.
11. Get in Gear After the Study Cycle, this is one of the most popular of the Anti-Boring Mini-Lectures. It provides a checklist to help students overcome procrastination.
12. 3 Levels of Questions This mini-lecture is useful to teach students higher order thinking skills


Here is Kate, an academic coach and one of the Art of Inspiring Students course participants, reflecting about the “beauty and flexibility” of the mini-lectures:

“I can see the beauty and flexibility of the Mini-Lectures. Once students understand the Study Cycle, they don’t necessarily have to be exposed to the rest of the material in order. As a coach, I value being able to provide a customized approach to each student.”

What Kate is speaking to here is the power of a Toolbox (as opposed to a Curriculum). A lot of educators come to me wishing I could give them an easy, step-by-step outline for exactly what to teach students in what order in order to help them be more strategic learners. However, I’ve found that a Toolbox is a better strategy — I give you a collection of rockin’ tools and exact instructions about how to teach these tools — but then you the educator get to tune into (1) your own internal authority, and (2) your relationship with your student(s) to feel into what order is best for their unique learning needs

We have one more lesson in our free masterclass here. In the next lesson I will teach you the 7th characteristic of a mini-lecture and we’ll explore some issues related to troubleshooting the Study Cycle when you teach it to students.

That means, educators, that it’d be super useful if you actually practice leading the Study Cycle once or twice. Ideally you’d teach it to an actual student or group of students. However, you might also practice teaching it If you need to watch the video again to be reminded of the order of how I teach it, click here. (Note: in the Art of Inspiring students I actually give you typed out “scripts” for all the mini-lectures, to make it easier to practice teaching them to students. For now though, since this is a free course, you can simply refer to your notes on the worksheet and the video of me teaching it). 

Choose Your own Adventure:

  • Click here to move on to Lesson 5: Mistakes Not to Make When Teaching the Study Cycle. 
  • Click here to learn more about The Art of Inspiring Students to Study Strategically

 I told you that there is a seventh component to a successful “Mini-Lecture” and now I’m going to reveal what that is:

Seventh: It inspires curiosity by generating additional questions from the students themselves!

Usually after I teach the Study Cycle, students start asking things like:

  • What are ways I can encode in new ways? I only know one or two.
  • How do I test myself? Is flashcards the only way (I hate flashcards)?

In fact, did you have some similar questions as you learned the Study Cycle? Have you been wondering, “Sounds good Gretchen. But how? HOW?! How do I encode in new ways? How do I practice retrieval regularly without boring myself?””

Good questions! IMPORTANT questions.

The Study Cycle seems simple. And it should seem simple at the very beginning, because complex models are easier to learn when we start simple.

Although the Study Cycle is complete in and of itself — and you are welcome to start teaching it to the students in your context immediately! — you will quickly discover that it is only the FIRST STEP on the journey to learning to study strategically.

What is the NEXT STEP in flexing your strategic study teaching muscles? To answer that question, let’s turn now to discussing common issues educators encounter when they try to teach the Study Cycle to students. I harvested these mistakes by posting a question in my Art of Inspiring Students Facebook group:

Here’s what Art of Inspiring Students alum answered:


  1. Feel Hesitant to Follow the Recipe. Many educators feel shy copying the way I teach the Study Cycle, and think they have to make it their own. Anna Hasbun, who owns a tutoring company and trains all her incoming tutors in the Study Cycle, said this, “I struggled with the feeling that I was plagiarizing so I would change it and then it would wind up coming out less efficient. It took some time to feel ok about using your exact words.”
  2. Talk Too Much. Educators also talk too much while trying to teach the Study Cycle! They want to share every detail of the new brain science they’ve learned and they overwhelm students with details. 
  3. Forget to Ask Questions. In a related issue, educators forget to ask students questions. I know I call it a Lecture, but ideally it should be an interactive lecture with students opening their mouths and contributing at least twice (and about every two minutes) in order to stay engaged.
  4. Forget to Have Students Draw. It’s important to make sure that students are active participants during the “mini-lecture.” Make sure you draw it as you teach it, and ideally, have the students draw along with you — or teach it back to you at the end, to review what they’ve just learned by drawing it out. 
  5. Don’t Get Specific About Context. Educators are often too general when they teach the Study Cycle. It’s much more effective if taught in the specific context of something they’re learning right now.  Although the Study Cycle does stand alone,  it’s more impactful if you teach it because there’s a test coming up in a week, or because a student just failed a test and is motivated to do better next time. The more specific you can be about the context, the better. 
  6. Assume Students Know How to Quiz Themselves. Academic Coach Nancy Minolli pointed out that we assume students know what we mean when we tell them to practice retrieval by testing themselves. So many students don’t! It’s much more impactful to actually practice encoding and retrieving with students, so that we ensure they understand each of these steps.  
  7. Don’t Have a Variety of Encoding & Retrieval Tools. Once students start asking questions like, “How else can I encode in new ways?”, educators realize they don’t have a full enough toolbox to answer this question sufficiently. You might have a couple tools, but they often are tools that students have had suggested to them already and/or have an aversion to (like cornell notes or flashcards). How can you fill your Strategic Study toolbox to overflowing, so that there are TONS of choices to teach students when they ask?

Let’s look at that last one more closely.

How full IS your toolbox of encoding and retrieval tools? Back in Lesson 2, I made a few suggestions to the students, and I’d like to repeat those here now:

 Step 2: Ways to Retrieve Information (to Discover What You Do and Don’t Know)

  • Instead of being annoyed or scared by the quizzes your teacher gives, get curious about how you performed on the quiz, and notice with interest what you got right and wrong
  • Before filling out a worksheet for homework, get curious about what you do and don’t know. REad over the worksheet pretending it’s a quiz and see whether you have any guesses about what the answers might be. Then look up all the answers in the textbook to confirm or correct what you do and don’t know.

Step 3: Ways to Encode in New Ways (to learn the stuff you don’t know well)

  • Host a study group and teach each other the information you don’t know well
  • Summarize your notes. Make them more condensed. I call this ‘honing your notes” and I teach multiple strategies for doing this in the Anti-Boring Approach (for students and parents)  and the Art of Inspiring Students (for educators)
  • Draw pictures of the information. 
  • What else can you think of?

Each of these suggestions is what I would call a “tool” in a student and teacher’s Strategic Study toolbox. So I’ll ask you again: How full is your toolbox? Can you add 2-5 tools to these lists? 

Worksheet: Take a moment to fill out on your worksheet. 

Take a quick look at this map, where I provide an overview of the tools I teach in the Anti-Boring Approach and Art of Inspiring Students: 

The above is an overview, a map if you will. Here is a more specific collection of the complete Anti-Boring Toolbox:

Because I like to practice what I preach about active learning, I ask all my Art of Inspiring Students course participants to create a final, one-page summary of all the tools they learned throughout the course. In effect, I’m asking them to create their one-page “toolbox”. 

For your viewing pleasure, here are a couple of examples:

Moving Into the Home Stretch

My goal with this course was to give you the most effective tool I know — The Study Cycle! — to start turning students from passive direction followers (or ignorers!) into active, agile, self sufficient learners.

I wanted to help you you understand why it is such an effective tool for motivating students to study strategically, and give you the confidence to begin sharing the Study Cycle in your classrooms, coaching and tutoring sessions.

However, there’s a problem!

I’ve gotten consistent feedback that the Study cycle is a GREAT FIRST STEP in helping students understand how their brains tick. But once educators and students learn it, it generates more questions! Gosh darn it. As good ol’ Aristotle once wrote, “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” And the same is true with the study cycle.

Once students understand the importance of “retrieval” (testing themselves) and “encoding” (learning in a new way), they become antsy! They want to know LOTS OF DIFFERENT WAYS to do those things. They’re inspired by the idea that learning can be less boring, and they want more choices so that they can put this into action!!

An in order to give students a chock-full toolbox, educators need to equip themselves with these tools first!

However, from my zillions of conversations with teachers, tutors and coaches all over the world, I’ve seen that the following is true:

Most educators do not have a strong enough toolbox of study strategies!

Even after learning the Study Cycle, teachers can explain WHAT an effective learning process looks like, but they still struggle to equip students with EXACTLY WHAT STUDY ACTIVITIES TO CHOOSE FROM to put that learning process into action.

Just as airlines suggest that parents put on their oxygen mask first, I recommend that educators…

Fill your own tool box of study strategies FIRST.

Then, teach students to apply these tools using the Study Cycle.

I designed the course the Art of Inspiring Students to Study Strategically after I got tons of requests by email — from teachers, tutors and academic coaches — to help fill your own toolboxes of Strategic Study Skills.

And guess what?! It’s that time again! I’d like to OFFICIALLY invite you to join me for the next round of this practical and transformative course for educators. I have developed a clear, step-by-step roadmap for educators to help you:

  • Explain complex brain theory in simple, engaging, hilarious ways.
  • Inspire teens to take responsibility for their own learning, seeing themselves as powerful choice makers rather than victims to the school system
  • Make studying effective (and fun!) so students are 100% ready for every test.
  • Overcome procrastination in your students, sparking consistent action.

Furthermore, there’s no need to re-invent the wheel! I’ve done all the heavy lifting for you. You’ll receive:

  • Step by step instructions for how to teach five engaging mini-lectures
  • 30+ specific tools students can use to encode, retrieve and manage time
  • Videos of real students learning and applying these tools, to watch them in action
  • A printable workbook to guide your own learning through the course
  • Lots of time directly with Gretchen and other Anti-Boring Approach trained coaches to get support applying these tools in your context
  • An inspired community of other engaged, inspired, curious educators dedicated not just to complaining about students but rather putting all these creative ideas into action?
  • And more!

Please join us! Click here to find out more (including a complete syllabus of what you will learn in every module) and reserve your spot.

We officially get started mid-February 2019. However, those of you who sign up now will get IMMEDIATE ACCESS to the entire Anti-Boring Approach to Powerful Studying course for students, so that you can start filling your Strategic Study toolbox as soon as you sign in.

Please join me! Let’s change the world one Anti-Boring Study Tool at a time!

Student Coaching

Do you have a student in need of academic coaching? Click here to apply to work directly with Gretchen or one of her trained Academic Life Coaches. All coaching is virtual!

Student Coaching

Do you have a student in need of academic coaching? Click here to apply to work directly with Gretchen or one of her trained Academic Life Coaches. All coaching is virtual!