A guest blog by Kathy Beamer, LTT Extended Team Member 

In an episode of the LTT team’s podcast Conceptually Speaking, Julie Stern spoke about reading the book Cork Dork by Bianca Bosker and coming across the idea of what makes a great wine. She said in the book, a great wine is defined as “Wine that invites a second sip. It’s wine that is so complex and interesting that you want to have a second sip.” Julie immediately made the connection to learning, saying, “We want learning to be so interesting and complex that it invites a second pass.” 

Just as Julie noticed a similarity between good wine and good learning experiences, teachers want students to be regularly looking for and making connections between ideas or concepts. And if students are to transfer understanding of concepts to similar and dissimilar contexts, they “need practice in abstracting to the conceptual level and transferring their learning to increasingly dissimilar contexts” (Stern et al., 2021, p.18). To support the development of skills in this area, the activity “What’s the Connection?” can help. 

This activity can be a low-key way to encourage students (or adults) to look at two different contexts, situations, ideas, etc. and find similarities between them. The more unique the two contexts or ideas used, the more playful people seem to be, increasing the creativity. But it does work better to start with very familiar situations at first, such as “school” and “soccer games” as shown in the example below. The activity can be experienced during one time block, or on an ongoing basis if you keep track of ideas and encourage students to keep adding to the list.

Depending on the age of students and their experience with concept-focused learning, the last step of identifying a connecting concept can be very guided. To scaffold, the concepts can be suggested, or students can choose concepts from a list. If the leader provides the concept as a suggested connection, participants can be asked to explain why they agree the concept makes sense to link the two contexts or ideas together. 

Steps for “What’s the Connection?”: 

  1. Choose 2 situations or ideas to link together. 
  2. Ask participants to brainstorm similarities or connections – Prompting questions can help to scaffold the activity, especially at first.
  3. Identify a linking concept – A generated list like the ones below can be helpful especially at first. 

Example: School and Soccer Games

Prompting questions and sample responsesFollow-up questions and sample concept links
People: Who might you see?
ChildrenTeachers/coachesPrincipalParentsSoccer players – could be children or adultsFans – could be parents
Purpose: Why are people at schools and soccer games?
To learnTo have funTo watch the gameBecause it’s their job
Actions: What might people be doing? 
Playing a gameReadingSitting (in desks or on floor at school, in stands or chairs on soccer field sideline) Listening – to teacher or coach’s instructionsTalking Painting
Purpose: What might you be “reading” in school or at a soccer game? Why? BooksWebsitesScoreboardPeople’s facesThe situation in the game (Tell me more, why?) – to think about what move to make next
Knowledge: What would you need to know to play soccer? 
The rulesSkills – dribbling, passing, shooting
Structure & Organization: Why do you need to know the rules?
To know how to play the game
What might happen if there were no rules? 
It would be crazyNo one would know what to doIt wouldn’t be fun
Are there similar rules at school? Why? 
Keep students safeSo we can get work done
Time: What role does time play at school and soccer games? 
Start and end timesBells or whistles to signal Set amounts of time
Structure & Organization: Why do you think there are signals for start and end times?
To communicate to everyone school or the game is starting
Why are there set starting times or lengths of time? What might happen if there was no set starting time?
So people know when to comePeople might miss school or the game because they didn’t know when to comeMight not have enough players if they didn’t know when to be there (might not have a teacher!)

Additional Tips & Tricks:

  • Use “why” questions as follow-up ones to brainstormed ideas. These questions are the ones that are more likely to lead to the connecting concept. 
  • Let students or players choose the two contexts for the round. This might mean it is harder to make connections as the ideas haven’t been pre-planned.
  • Think of different categories to select ideas to try connecting: skills (swimming, cooking), places (restaurant, zoo), objects (chair, fork), art (paintings, songs)


Bosker, B. (2017). Cork dork: A wine-fueled adventure among the obsessive sommeliers, big bottle hunters, and rogue scientists who taught me to live for taste. Penguin Random House LLC

Stern, J., Ferraro, K., Duncan, K., & Aleo, T. (2021). Learning that transfers: Designing curriculum for a changing world. Corwin

Stern, J. & Aleo, T. (2020 – present). Conceptually speaking