Chip and Dan Heath have ideas worth paying attention to.


Chip and Dan Heath’s Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die grew out of [Malcolm] Gladwell’s stickiness concept. As the book’s title indicates, the authors focus on sticky ideas, ones that are easily understood, remembered, and affect change. They developed five principles using the acronym, SUCCESs:

  • Simplicity: determine and prioritize your core message and communicate it using an analogy or high-concept pitch; keep it simple, don’t dumb down.
  • Unexpected: gain and hold attention creating curiosity gaps to make students want your message; use exciting lead-ins, dynamic questions, and mystery queries.
  • Concrete: use sensory language (for example, Aesop’s fables), paint a mental picture, employ the Velcro theory of memory as having multiple hooks; specificity connects.
  • Credible: ideas gain legitimacy from outside authorities (or anti-authorities) or from within using human-scale statistics (for example, one child for Save the Children or the Smile Train); let students test it out before they buy.
  • Emotional: people care about people, not numbers; be aware as identity appeals can often trump self-interest.
  • Stories: drive action through simulation (what to do), inspiration (the motivation to do it), and springboard stories (helping others see how an existing problem might change).113

The Heaths are onto something—and they have written with teachers in mind. Any teacher who takes their message to heart, reads the book, and makes use of their website cannot enter a class again and fail to wonder how to make his teaching stick. Already, students enter our classrooms full of sticky ideas, most of which have no use for them or for us. But, if we decide to appeal to the stickiness in their brains, we will break the cycles of monotony—and no longer make them sit passively.

Already, teachers tell me they are looking for more sticky ways to run courses and lessons. Perhaps each of us has tipping points ready to be awakened or released. Surely, when we let go of acting as conduits of an imposed curriculum, we will take ownership of what we teach. We will transform the minds and hearts of our students. We will invoke an epidemic of learning in our classrooms.


For more on this crucial issue see Chapter 16 “Leverage Tipping Points” in Teaching from the Middle of the Room: Inviting Students to Learn from Amazon: