Shampoo and a meal

It’ll change the way you teach (Updated — Nov 29, 2016)


© Zivkovic, S. Downloaded from Image ID 272721680.

Here’s an interesting — probably apocryphal — story about the shampoo industry. A shampoo company was desperate to increase their profits. After many brain-storming sessions, the company came up with an ingenious and very inexpensive way to make consumers use twice as much shampoo as before thereby emptying the bottle twice as fast resulting in the need to buy another bottle of shampoo. What was this amazing marketing scheme? They added one word to the instructions on the bottle.


You’re probably wondering what this story has to do with changing the way you teach. Well, I often talk about the shampoo methodology, a specific teaching technique which helps support students in their learning. It follows the same principle. Repeat.

I try to limit anything I’m saying to no more than 7 minutes. Seven minutes of talking, explaining, demonstrating…whatever. It isn’t easy, particularly for someone like me who can talk the hind legs off a donkey! After seven minutes, people’s minds start to wander and their concentration starts to wane. If I’m honest, sometimes I do go on a bit longer but I try very hard to keep it to 7 minutes.

After seven minutes, the students repeat what I’ve said in some form or another. Sometimes I’ll have them explain what I’ve said so far to the person sitting beside them. Sometimes I’ll ask them to complete a quick online poll to see how much they’ve understood.

Basically, they get a chance to review the little bit of information given to them to help them move it from short-term memory into longer-term memory. Then I go on with the next bit of my lecture/talk/seminar.

The shampoo methodology may seem gimmicky and of more use in a primary school classroom rather than a university lecture theatre — but it works! It helps students keep engaged, gives them an opportunity to review their learning immediately and gives everyone a 15–30 second breather.

…and a meal

© Monkey Business Images. Downloaded from Image ID 123420295.

This methodology is part of a larger concept I call the meal methodology. When I explain the meal methodology to my students, I start by giving them a scenario.

Imagine you are on a hot date with someone who you’ve been desperate to go out with for months. You meet up at a nice restaurant and the server brings you a menu and you order a starter, a main meal and a dessert.

The starter arrives and you shove it all in your mouth as fast as you can because you are so very hungry. No sooner have you finished gulping down the starter when the main course arrives. You practically inhale your food, gulping it down in minutes. The dessert arrives quickly afterwards and, once again, you wolf down your food.

Here are the questions I ask my students when I give them this scenario:

  1. How well will you have enjoyed your meal if you eat like this?
  2. How many indigestion tablets do you think you’ll need afterwards?
  3. What are the odds you’ll be going out on a second date with this person?
  4. What are the advantages of taking your time when eating?

Here are some of the responses I’ve had from students: 1. Not a lot (and neither will your date!); 2. Many; 3. Incredibly unlikely; 4. Easier to digest, more sociable, more enjoyable, able to eat more, won’t feel ill aftewards and there’s a higher probability of a 2nd date.

So basically, a meal will provide more benefit when sufficient time is taken otherwise there could be adverse effects.

It’ll change the way you teach

It’s the very same for teaching! Students are not going to learn very effectively if the information is being rammed down their throat at breakneck speed. Instead, each concept or idea needs to be carefully chewed and digested before the next morsel (i.e., concept/idea) is introduced. Giving students time to think and reflect on what is being explained or demonstrated will help them to enjoy the overall learning experience. They won’t be suffering from information overload (indigestion) at the end.

Online polling, Twitter, Pair & Share, creating videos or audio tracks or simply talking to one other are some of the ways I help my students digest their ‘learning meal’. If you start to think of your lecture or tutorial in terms of a meal, you start to realise you need to have a starter, a main course and a dessert (beginning, middle and end) but you also need to make sure the learners are not rushing through their meal. They must have time to digest what they are learning.

Putting the shampoo and the meal methodology together means rethinking how a learning experience is going to be implemented. It means reviewing what you want the students to learn and how they are going to learn it, breaking it down into bite-size morsels and giving students time to chew and digest each ‘learning morsel’. You may find you don’t get through quite so much content but that what has been taught has been more engaging and enjoyable, both for you and the learners

So there you have it. Shampoo and a meal — two ideas which can transform your teaching and help support your students’ learning and your own teaching.

Originally posted January 06, 2016 — TELT@Glasgow: A Blog for Technology Enhanced Learning and Teaching at the University of Glasgow. This blog expands on the original post (a bit).