Metacognitive Strategies (How People Learn)

Metacognitive strategies are techniques to help students develop an awareness of their thinking processes as they learn. These techniques help students focus with greater intention, reflect on their existing knowledge versus information they still need to learn, recognize errors in their thinking, and develop practices for effective learning.

Some metacognitive strategies are easy to implement:

  • ask students to submit a reflection on a topic before reading a text and then revisit that reflection after the reading to consider how it informed their thinking
  • introduce a problem and have students participate in a think-pair-share on the strategy they would use to solve it; then share your strategy too
  • ask students to write a reflection on how they figured out an answer to a question (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000)

Try This

  • Pre-Assessment of Knowledge: Use a pre-class survey, homework assignment, polling questions in class, or a short reflective writing piece as a way for students to explore their existing knowledge about a topic. Asking how the topic relates to students’ experiences or interests can highlight pre-existing knowledge and boost engagement. Comment on the reflections or share some themes with the class.
  • Metacognitive “Close Reading” Exercise: Ask your students to bring an assigned reading to class and have them consider how reading strategies can help them retain the information. One method is to ask students to individually read a short passage, note two to three strategies they used when reading, and compare their strategies with a partner.
    • Debrief with the class and share a list of common strategies
    • Preview your reading (title, abstract, headings, charts, diagrams, questions, terms highlighted in bold text, italicized words, etc.)
    • Based on your preview, develop some questions that you think the text will answer
    • Write down any questions you have
    • Read a paragraph, paraphrase it, and check to see if it answered any of your questions
    • Repeat this process with the entire document to ensure you understand the material and can answer your questions
    • After you finish reading, test yourself on your questions
    • Make a note of what is still unclear
  • Preparing for Class: Ask students to prepare for class by reviewing the week's syllabus topic and reading. Use the Canvas online quiz tool, in-class polling, or index cards to learn how students understand the goals for the class meeting, how they think they should prepare, and what they learned from the reading.
    • Some potential questions:
      • What is one question you still have about the reading?
      • What is one thing you are curious about?
      • How can you best prepare for class?
      • What can you do in class to help yourself learn?
  • Reflection Questions (Classroom Assessment Techniques): After assignments have been completed, ask students to reflect on their work and discuss their answers in class to clarify their thinking.
    • Sample prompts:
      • Explain two ideas in the reading that you found confusing.
      • Did working with your group help you learn? Why or why not?
      • What advice would you give yourself now if you were to start this project again?
      • What went well?
      • What could have gone better?
      • What could you do to improve things in the future?

These strategies offer a great opportunity to teach students about metacognition. Explaining that this reflection process can help them integrate new knowledge and take control of their learning experience.

For more information on using metacognitive strategies, please contact CTI for a consultation.

Selected Resources


  • Bransford, J., National Research Council (U.S.)., & National Research Council (U.S.). (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, D.C: National Academy Press.
  • Brown, P. C., Roediger, H. L., & McDaniel, M. A. (2014). Make it stick: The science of successful learning.
  • Lang, J. M. (2016). Small teaching: Everyday lessons from the science of learning.
  • Khosa, D. K., & Volet, S. E. (2014). Productive group engagement in cognitive activity and metacognitive regulation during collaborative learning: Can it explain differences in students’ conceptual understanding? Metacognition and Learning, 9, 287–307.
  • McGuire, S. Y., & McGuire, S. (2015). Teach students how to learn: Strategies you can incorporate into any course to improve student metacognition, study skills, and motivation.