Powerful Interleaving Strategies

By Pooja K. Agarwal, Anne Agostinelli

Regardless of education level (e.g., K–12 or higher education), you don’t need to alter your lessons to implement interleaving. Practice problems need only be rearranged, without requiring any rewriting of individual problems. If your textbook doesn’t contain interleaved practice sets, you can still implement interleaving with minimal disruption to your lesson plans or grading methods. For instance, students could be instructed to complete the fifth problem from three different textbook chapters (as opposed to three problems from the same chapter).

How exactly should practice problems be interleaved? Actually, the choice between interleaved and blocked practice is a false dichotomy. In fact, a hybrid approach might be optimal for enhancing student learning.1 For example, the first portion of a mathematics assignment might include a small block of problems on the concept or procedure learned that day, followed by interleaved problems drawn from previous lessons.

Below are additional interleaving strategies that require minimal planning (simply a problem set), create a fun and low-stakes atmosphere, and put students in charge of interleaving. It’s important to keep these strategies low stakes or no stakes. They are not competitive activities. Interleaving challenges student learning, so remove any additional pressures like grades, points, or speed competitions.

Dice Game

  1. Create an interleaved problem set.
  2. Arrange students in pairs or small groups and give each one the problem set (or display it on the board).
  3. One student rolls a die (or dice if there are more than six problems) and answers the problem corresponding with the die roll.
  4. The other student provides feedback.
  5. Switch turns.

The Fishbowl

  1. Create an interleaved problem set.
  2. Write or print the problems on slips of paper, cut up the slips, and put them in a fishbowl, a hat, a backpack, etc. (or use a tech tool).
  3. Walk around the room. Have each student draw a slip and answer the problem individually (the “think” stage of think-pair-share).
  4. Have students pair up and share.
  5. Collect the slips, shuffle, and draw again.

Lightning Round

  1. Create an interleaved problem set.
  2. Hand the list to a student, who calls out one problem from the list at random.
  3. Have all students solve the problem and write down their answers.
  4. Give students feedback.
  5. Pass the list to another student and continue.

Two Things

  1. With a few minutes left in class, have students close their notebooks and texts.
  2. Ask students to write down two things they have learned and want to remember from today’s lesson (or from the previous day, or last week, etc.).
  3. Once students have finished writing their two things, have them pass their paper to a classmate.
  4. Classmates write one more thing and pass the papers back to the original author.
  5. Now each student in the class has three things to remember and think about!

The 60-Second Summary

  1. At the end of a class period, set a timer for 60 seconds.
  2. Have students put away all class materials, notes, and texts.
  3. Explain that they should write and/or draw continuously for 60 seconds, capturing the big ideas of that day’s lesson.
  4. If you’d like students to get feedback, they can stand up, find a partner, and take turns reading and responding to each other’s summaries.

Endnote

1. V. X. Yan et al., “How Should Exemplars Be Sequenced in Inductive Learning? Empirical Evidence versus Learners’ Opinions,” Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied 23 (2017): 403–416.

American Educator, Spring 2020
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Tips for Powerful Interleaving

  • Mix up related math problems to promote students’ discrimination of concepts and strategies.
  • Keep interleaved problem sets related. Adding completely unrelated problems won’t further promote students’ discrimination.
  • Problem sets can take a variety of formats: numerical, word problems, formulas, etc. The key is to include problems that are related conceptually, regardless of format.
  • Encourage students to stick with the desirable difficulty of interleaving. What works well in the short term (blocked practice) doesn’t promote learning in the long term.
  • Find technology tools and apps—especially with a shuffle feature—that students can use for interleaved practice. These low-stakes tools also include opportunities for immediate feedback.

–P. K. A. and A. A.