Want to prove you know something? Want to master something quick? Want to do good in the world? World peace? End starvation?

Okay, living the old adage that if you really want to learn something you teach it may not end with world peace, but it will certainly help you lock in what you know about a given subject. And you’ll also help someone else as well!

When you teach, you can’t just sit on your hands and passively learn. You need to get active, pay attention, engage with what your learning. You are taking in new information that you will need to turn around and give to someone else.

One of my friends at Cambridge said most of the learning went on in the pubs after lectures. Not only did ale flow, but so did ideas and the uses of the ideas. In the classroom, the students absorbed the information, but in the pub they had to teach others, defend their ideas debate their point of view.

As Richard Wilhelm points out in the I Ching, “Knowledge should be a refreshing and vitalizing force. It becomes so only through stimulating intercourse with congenial friends with whom one holds discussion and practices application of the truths of life. In this way learning becomes many-sided and takes on a cheerful lightness, whereas there is always something ponderous and one-sided about the learning of the self-taught.”

When you teach someone something, take a look at how things are organized.

Here are five major ways to organize in order to teach others by showing and telling:

  • Define—Ask, what it is and give it a definition that would make Webster proud. This includes the structure and purpose of what you’re defining.
    example: A chair is a piece of furniture made up of a back, stool, and four legs for the purpose of sitting.

  • Structure—Ask, what are the parts? This breaks down further and further into constant units.
    example: A chair is made of a back, stool, and four legs. The structure of the legs contain a lock nut and the other end a foot pad.

  • Classification—Ask, where this fits in with others?
    example: There are several pieces of furniture in my home. First, there is furnitures for indoors and furniture for outdoors. For indoors, there are tables, couches, shelves, and chairs. Of the chairs, there are swivel chairs, arm chairs, rocking chairs, and violin chairs.

  • Process—Ask, what are the steps? This is what you find when you need to put something together or learn the operation of a task.
    example: To build a chair, following these steps:
    1. Assemble the wood (2x2s, 1x4s, and 1.5” plywood), 1/4” dowels, wood glue, decking screws, double ended screws, drill and saw.
    2. Cut the side of the wood to the needed length.
    3. Assemble the sides.
    4. Build the chair back.
    5. Insert the back/seat combination and glue the seat into position.
    6. Secure everything.
    7. Paint.
    Now enjoy your new chair!

  • Compare and Contrast—Ask, how is it similar and different to others.
    example: A chair is similar to a couch. It is used both for utility in sitting and also for decoration. It is made of roughly the same materials and also constructed with four legs, arms, and a back.
    A chair is different to a couch in terms of size. A chair is meant for a single person, whereas a couch seats 2-1 people, depending on the size. Chairs tend to be relatively inexpensive. Couches, especially when fine materials are used, such as leather, can be very expensive. Chairs are often bought in groups of 2 or 4, whereas only a single couch is purchased.

The ability to teach shows us the beginners mind. Not only have we learned something, we have to explain it. The process of breaking down the parts and showing the steps, of making something complex simple enough that someone else can learn, is a powerful tool.