The micro lesson

This article ( has got me thinking.

Jimmy Carr’s joke referenced in the article is about as succinct as a joke can get; “Vennison’s dear, isn’t it”.

It is a micro joke. It deliberately omits all the necessary information for the joke to make sense (the exformation). Our brains rapidly fill in the missing information. The joke forces our minds to work. This feels an effortless process which requires no conscious initiation. The formation of the words, how the information is presented to us, tells us little but creates a vacuum which our inquisitive brain seeks to fill.

How might we create such a vacuum in learning such that we communicate so little but draw the mind to attempt to fill the void?

When I observe lessons I often see teachers presenting vast amounts of information. If the teacher is skilled, they continually return to the key conceptual understanding they wish to impart and provide a framework upon which students can hang the information. If the student is skilled they are able to pick up the cues as to what the lesson is essentially about and thereby order the information, sifting, discarding and prioritising so that their conceptual understanding builds.

What we might learn from the micro joke is that less is more. At the heart of every lesson is a micro lesson; a succinct way of stripping out all the exformation, providing just enough information for a vacuum to be created which the inquisitive mind seeks to fill. If we seek to clarify the micro lesson we may hope to engage the students minds in finding the exformation which is required to ‘get the joke’.

The topic is photosynthesis. The text book facts are numerous. Rather than start with the topic, the learning outcomes or the definition, why not start with the micro lesson, the information which creates the vacuum?

It could be something like this: “Why don’t plants have mouths?”

In itself, this succinct question tells me nothing I need to know, but it creates a vacuum of information which my mind seeks to fill. If I cannot fill this vacuum with answers then I will fill it with more questions; I will begin to search for the exformation that will make sense of the micro lesson. I don’t want you to do this for me. If you have to explain the joke, it isn’t funny. Equally, if you have to tell me , it isn’t interesting.

Who says vacuum’s suck?


2 thoughts on “The micro lesson

  1. I teach year 10 science at a free learning school, and for important new concepts in the curriculum I always start by riffing off Sgt Barnes from ‘Platoon’ talking about a key concept.


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