Brief Report: A Simple Stimulus for Student Writing and Learning in the Introductory Psychology Course

Article excerpt

This paper explores the efficacy of using familiar quotations and summary writing in introductory psychology lectures. I began lectures in my introductory psychology class with quotations from, an online version of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations. On some class periods, students also summarized the lecture and the quotation at the end of the class. Student performance on exam questions related to the quotations improved when they wrote summaries. Quotations may enhance lectures and improve student performance when students actively relate them to course content.


A single word even may be a spark of inextinguishable thought.--Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1821/1965, p. 37

Many introductory textbooks use quotations to introduce psychological concepts (e.g., Myers, 2007; Wade & Tavris, 2008). Quotations from writers such as Paul Valery ("The purpose of psychology is to give us a completely different idea of things we know best"), William James ("A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices"), and Emily Dickinson ("Assent, and you are sane; demur--you're straightaway dangerous") may facilitate student learning by arousing interest and preparing students for subsequent discussions.

Although the use of quotations to introduce psychological concepts is relatively common in textbooks, their role in classroom instruction is unknown. In the present study, I explored the efficacy of using quotations to enhance introductory psychology lectures.

In recent years, I have begun my introductory psychology lectures by presenting students with a quotation that illustrated that day's topic. I selected the quotations from, the online version of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations (2002). I drew most of the quotations from writers such as Shakespeare and Dickinson, rather than psychologists. Students appeared to enjoy the activity, but I found no obvious discernible effect on exam performance.

In the Spring 2006 semester, I combined quotations at the beginning of the class period with student summaries of the lecture at the end of the class period, the latter an activity found to improve examination scores (Radmacher & Latosi-Sawin, 1995). The purpose of combining quotations and summaries was to encourage students to identify the main point of the day's lecture and to connect it with the day's quotation.

There is reason to believe that the activity of combining quotations with lecture summaries might promote retention of concepts and hence better scores on exams. I suspected that many of my students would be unfamiliar with them. Thus, there may be a novelty effect at work, and students might be intrigued or curious about the meaning of the quotation in the context of the day's lecture. Such curiosity might lead to increased depth of processing, which promotes retention (Craik & Lockhart, 1972).

In the present study, I compared student performance on three groups of exam questions: those that corresponded to quotations that I combined with lecture summaries (combined condition), those that corresponded to quotations without summaries (quotation-only condition), and those that did not correspond to either quotations or summaries (control condition). My expectation was that only the combined condition would lead to improved exam performance relative to the baseline established in previous semesters.


Participants and Materials

Participants were 27 students in my introductory psychology class in the Spring 2006 semester at the University of Wisconsin-Superior.

I selected literary, historical, and scientific quotations from includes a number of different databases, including Bartlett's quotations (literary sources), Columbia quotations (literary and scientific quotations), and Simpson's quotations (more contemporary quotations). …


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