Tracing Enhances Recall and Transfer of Knowledge of the Water Cycle

  • Michael Tang
  • Paul GinnsEmail author
  • Michael J. Jacobson


Cognitive load theory has incorporated evolutionary perspectives to consider how biologically primary knowledge (such as physical movement and pointing), acquired through evolutionary processes, might support the acquisition of biologically secondary knowledge (such as reading or writing), requiring explicit teaching. Tracing (a physical movement) against a surface with the index finger may be one form of biologically primary knowledge that can enhance learning biologically secondary knowledge. We investigated whether tracing lesson materials (about the water cycle) presented on A4 pieces of paper in an initial phase, then on an A1 poster in a subsequent phase, would affect primary school students’ reports of intrinsic versus extraneous cognitive load, as well as recall and transfer test performance. Students who traced while studying reported lower extraneous cognitive load than those who simply studied and scored higher on subsequent recall and transfer tests. Considerations for instructional designers, educators and researchers are discussed.


Cognitive load theory Biologically primary knowledge Tracing Recall Transfer 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sydney School of Education and Social WorkThe University of SydneySydneyAustralia

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