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Small teaching approach: Interleaving


Interleaving is based on the theory that involves spacing out learning sessions over time and mixing up the practice of skills being developed instead of trying to master content before moving on to new content. The forced cycle of forgetting and remembering, along with the time between spaced learning sessions, allows students' minds to organize and solidify what they are learning.

How to apply this approach

Leverage Cumulative Learning — Consider ways in which every major assignment and exam draws from some information students have learned previously. Reveal connections to students. Use Mixed Learning — Introduce a topic at a basic level. Move a new topic to a basic level. Come back to the first topic at a more advanced level. Return to the second topic at a more advanced level in ways that build on the first topic. Blend Your Course — Combine online and in-class activities. Example: Use in-person class time for focused learning to help students achieve an initial level of mastery, then use online assignments and discussions that require them to reference previous material.


  • Combine Focus and Interleaving — A focused learning session can be helpful to gain initial mastery (such as memorizing and using new vocabulary or a focused problem-solving session) once students have foundational information, practice interleaving by having them return to the material again during the semester.
  • Provide Small and Frequent Repetition — Ideally, class sessions and assignments should allow students to return to course key concepts multiple times during the semester. These can be small, short activities — using a few minutes at the beginning or end of class to revisit the concepts.
  • Explain and Support — Learners may initially feel frustrated with interleaving, both in moving to a new topic before mastering an existing one and being required to access and use earlier course material. Explain the interleaving approach by speaking about what it is as a practice, why and how you will use interleaving in your class, and what benefits it offers to their learning.

Quick Tips

  • Use time at the beginning or end of class to pose questions that require students to recall older material, practice skills, or draw connections between current and previous course topics.
  • Use regular review sessions, such as 15 minutes at the end of a week or a course unit, for students to practice combining the skills learned earlier with the more recently learned skills.
  • Use short quizzes and exam sections to include questions requiring students to recall earlier material.
  • Ask students to refer to notes from an earlier class and reflect on the most critical points from that session. You can also incorporate a brief discussion based on what they referenced in their notes.
  • If students have worked on questions or problems before coming to class, use a short amount of class time to have them work on one more similar problem before moving to new material.


Lang, James M. Small teaching: Everyday lessons from the science of learning. John Wiley & Sons, 2016. pp.45-56.

Keywordssmall, teaching, knowledge, interleaving stDoc ID117977
OwnerTimmo D.GroupInstructional Resources
Created2022-04-14 11:57:24Updated2024-04-04 09:38:51
SitesCenter for Teaching, Learning & Mentoring
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