I have been teaching a high school introduction to Psychology class for over 15 years. When I first started teaching the course, students had a very difficult time understanding the concepts of classical conditioning. It might be safer to say, I had a difficult time presenting the material in a clear, understandable way.
Since those first years, I have added two mnemonic devices, an additional helpful step to the equation, and two video clips. This blog will focus on the mnemonic devices and equation.
Mnemonic devices
VOICE – For the learning unit, students are introduced to two mnemonic devices.  The first one is the word VOICE. VOICE points out the major difference between operant conditioning and classical conditioning. This word reinforces the role of the subject in the learning process.
V          voluntary
O         operant
I           involuntary
C          classical
E          extra (no purpose. The E only completes the word)
“S starts it off and R is ALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL right.” Before introducing the 3 steps of classical conditioning, I share this sentence with the students. I stress the word ALLLLLLL because I have found it helps the students remember the sentence better. I also really like saying it this way.
I developed this sentence a few years ago. The purpose of the sentence is to help the students remember where the terms are placed in the classical conditioning equation. The CS and UCS will always be to the on the LEFT side of the equation, starting it off, and the CR and UCR will always be on the RIGHT.
The equation
Below are the notes I present to my students in a PowerPoint. (Teachers can email me at mark@mytowntutors and I will gladly share the presentation):
(Helpful)        NS       +          X                                  —X–>                          UCR
Step #1           X          +          UCS                            ———>                         UCR
Step # 2          CS        +          UCS                            ———>                         UCR
Step #3           CS        +          X                                ———>                           UCR
The helpful step – The traditional classical conditioning equation consists of three steps. Students seem to gain a better understanding of the concepts when I include the “helpful step.” When reviewing the notes I say “The neutral stimulus DOES NOT PRODUCE the unconditioned response.” (The arrow with the X through it was the best way for me to created a visual with my limited computer abilities. I am sure other teachers could find a better visual.)
The helpful step reinforces the term “neutral stimulus” which is not included in the traditional steps of classical conditioning. It is also helpful to show that anything can be a neutral stimulus / conditioned stimulus. Additionally, I circle the conditioned stimulus and the neutral stimulus, drawing an arrow connecting them. The arrows illustrate that the word that is placed in the equation for NS and CS will be the same, similar to the UCR and CR being the same.
The Xs – I place an X in the spot of the term that is not used in step #1 and #3. This visual enhances student understanding of the material. It helps students remember that CS always comes before the UCS. During quizzes and tests, I leave the spaces for the Xs and deduct points if incorrect.
The BIG crossed out U – To reinforce the fact that the final response of classical conditioning is conditioned (learned), the students write a very large U (it is not to scale in this blog) and then place a line or an X through it.
Hopefully these tools are helpful in teaching classical conditioning to high school students.  I also have a powerpoint presentation that goes with the unit on learning. If you would be interested in a copy of this, please email me at mark@mytowntutors.com
My Town Tutors is a website that connects South Shore parents with teachers who tutor. If you are a teacher who tutors, for a limited time, you can register for using promo code: usteachers. Teachers set the hourly and keep 100% of the fees!
It is FREE for parents to search for a teacher in their area.