Student Learning Organizer for Metacognitive Strategies

Metacognition is a way for you to self-monitor your learning and expand on it to increase short and long-term memory. Cognitive strategies differ from metacognitive strategies in their concreteness such as concept mapping and frames (tables with or without formulas like below). Metacognition is thinking about thinking, hence, meta-awareness. When you engage in this self-talk, you’re monitoring your cognitive processes. This is referred to as the self-regulation of learning. Here are some examples you can try.

  • Mediation: Reflect on how you can make the materials meaningful to you. If something is meaningful, it increases the likelihood that you will remember it because you are paying special attention to it (Bruning, et al., 2011).
  • Organization: Cognitive psychologists believe the act of organizing material forms a mental representation that you can reference later on during recall. Ambrose et al. (2010) recommend that the information be organized in the way it is to be retrieved and used (e.g., linear, hierarchy, or interconnected).
  • Imagery: Visualize it! “…The brain constructs a visual representation of the world” (Ward, 2010, p. 103). Bruning et al (2011) recommend imagery as a way to encode information.
  • Elaboration: Learn a little bit more about the topic you are studying beyond what is discussed in class. For example, you might try describing the history of the topic. When you elaborate, it provides deeper learning of the topic (Bruning et al., 2011).
  • Maintenance Rehearsal: This refers to ongoing review. For example, review words in a flashcard deck twice a week all semester long. According to Ericsson (1996) and Bruning et al (2011), distributed (i.e., ongoing) practice is more effective than massed practice (i.e., cramming). On how to practice, Roediger and Karpicke (2006) found that students in the treatment group of study-test-test-test outperformed other students that focused less on testing (i.e., study-study-study-test and only studying).
  • Elaborative Rehearsal: This is when you go beyond what the textbook or lecture is saying about a topic and relate the information to your previous knowledge. This increases the likelihood of incorporating new information into your existing knowledge (Bransford, et al., 2000 & Bruning, et al., 2011).
  • Mnemonics: This is a learning short-cut to remember different pieces of information. For example, use 1st-level letters to form acrostic or quirky phrases to learn technical terms. West et al (1991) classified it as “high tonnage,” which means you can string together a large number of items with this strategy. Tullis and Qui (2021) found that you deepen your learning by creating your own mnemonics.

Directions for Students

Here’s the Google Doc of the student learning organizer as a takeaway! Use this checklist to chart your metacognitive strategy usage. This is a job aid (how-to-guide) to help you remember how to maximize your learning through self-regulation. Begin by writing down what you already do to study and then compare it with these research-based strategies. Let me know if you find it useful.

Note for Instructors

Embedding learning strategies within your course materials will make it more inclusive. See my Google Slides with annotations on Cook’s (1989) specific metacognitive strategies for reading. View my other blog on cognitive strategies for student use. Specific to language, view Practical Second Language Acquisition Strategies for a mixture of (meta)cognitive learner strategies.


Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., & Norman, M. K. (2010). How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching. Jossey-Bass.

Bransford, J. D., Brown A. L., & Cocking R. R. (1999). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. National Academy Press.

Bruning, R. H., Schraw, G. J., & Norby, M. M. (2011). Cognitive psychology and instruction. Pearson.

Cook, D. M. (1989). Meta-cognitive behaviours of good and poor readers: Strategic learning in the content areas. Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

Ericsson, K. A. (1996). The acquisition of expert performance. In K. A. Ericsson (Ed.), The road to excellence: The acquisition of expert performance in the arts, science, sports, and games (pp. 1-50). Erlbaum.

Ormrod, J. E. (2012). Human learning. Pearson.

Roediger, H. L. III, & Karpicke, J. D.  (2006). The power of testing memory: Basic research and implications for educational practice. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 1, 181-210.

Tullis, J. G., & Qiu, J. (2021). Generating mnemonics boosts recall of chemistry information. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied

Ward, J. (2010). The student’s guide to cognitive neuroscience. Psychology Press.

West, C. K., Farmer, J. A., & Wolff, P. M. (1991). Instructional design: Implications from cognitive science. Prentice Hall.


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