Tapping Intuition

Helping Students Know what They Know

A friend of mine listened to a presentation this past weekend from a woman who trains Dental Hygienists. The focus of the talk was on intuition. What?! Intuition in such a technical field?! Do I want my dentist operating on intuition or on fact?!?! But her point was that science-based professions are so focused on the technical names and explanations that they forget to help students tap into what they already know.

For example, she shows students two different tools and asks them which is for the front teeth and which is for the back. The students can tell just by looking at them. Before they know the names or specific scenarios in which they would use those tools, they can intuit what they are for.

Why Start from Intuition?

Remember back to that first day of a new class or when you first started college. Remember those doubts you had “is this the right thing? Can I do this? Will I be good enough? Can I really learn all of this?” Learning, while often exciting, puts students in a vulnerable position. They don’t know any of this stuff and they often feel a lot of pressure to succeed and be right.

Tapping into their intuition, or prior knowledge, gives them solid ground to stand on. “Ah, yes, I do know some of this.” When we regularly help students tap their intuition, they will become more practiced in it. Then, when they find themselves in a new situation, or faced with a question for which they have no studied answer, they will know how to find that solid base of intuition; they will know where to begin.


Here are some example questions to help tap student intuition.


  • What’s the fastest route from Point A to B?
  • If you graph these two equations, which will be steeper?


  • What difficulties could the characters face due to their environment?
  • By examining major events in the book, when do you think this was written?

Social Studies

  • What do you think this tool is used for?
  • Looking at this map of ecosystems, where do you think early hunter-gatherers would live?
  • Given this landscape, what resources do you think would be scarce? What do you think these people would have conflicts over?

World Language

  • What do you think this passage is about given the name?
  • What words do you think you might see in this story?
  • Even though you don’t know all of the words in this sentence, what do you think it’s about?


  • Given this equipment, what do you think is the object of the game?
  • What do you think the markers on this field represent?


  • Of these two animals, which one do you think eats plants and which one eats animals?
  • Which object do you think would hurt more if it fell on your foot?
  • What do you think this tree needs to grow?
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