How To Create Teachable Moments

perfect teachable moment

What is a teachable moment? How do you provoke such a moment in the classroom, the office and the playroom?


This is usually how I start my class. Question. Silence.

A teachable moment is often defined as an unplanned opportunity to offer insight to learners.

I don’t agree. You can plan teachable moments. As a teacher, trainer or parent, you should try to create them all the time.

How do you do that?

First, you need to grasp this fundamental principle: learning happens when thinking happens.

So what’s the easiest way to make learners think?

Here’s my two-step recipe:

  1. Ask a thought-provoking question.
  2. Wait.

Your thought-provoking questions must bring about vulnerability and curiosity, and they best achieve that goal when they start with how and why.

In Globalization, Lifelong Learning and The Learning Society, the education expert Peter Jarvis explains that learning can’t occur without a tension or disjuncture. He describes a disjuncture as a situation when our unthinking harmony with our world is disturbed, or when our past experiences are no longer sufficient to cope automatically with the situation.

This is exactly the kind of situation your questions must create.

The second step is as important, but very often omitted. You must give learners time to think about your questions. If you answer your own questions right away like I used to do, the whole process becomes worthless.

Waiting for the learner to come up with an answer often feels awkward, but that’s where the gold is found. As Jarvis shows, learning occurs when sudden changes or novel situations make people stop in their tracks, because they don’t know automatically what to do or how to respond.

That’s your teachable moment.

People don’t remember much of what they’re taught unless they stop and think. Asking (ourselves) questions is key here. So peak learners must do like kids. Never stop asking why.

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