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Ever wanted to retain more information while you learn, and enjoy the whole breadth of literature as you do it? Interleaving is the perfect tool for you!

This intelligent technique allows us to draw connections between different texts, concepts and ideas, making it easier for us to recall key details about texts, all while opening our minds to the expansiveness of the literary world. Let's find more out about this technique and process, and how we can apply it to our work.

Interleaving: meaning

The concept of interleaving is a way for you to improve memory retention, your learning experience, and your understanding of the way works of literature intertwine.

Interleaving means 'to alternate'. Within learning, it is the process of mixing, intertwining, and linking your ideas together to help improve your understanding and retain more information.

The theory proposes that by tying each new idea into ideas already learned. We can immerse ourselves in a concept, understand its scope, and see how it relates to other similar concepts. Let's look into the technique and how it applies to literature.

Interleaving: technique

The most common way that people choose to revise is through 'blocking'.

Blocking involves studying one topic at a time in detail, attempting to remember it, and then moving on to the next topic.

Interleaving, on the contrary, involves mixing up your topics frequently and comparing and contrasting them with one another. Here's a diagram to visualise the difference.

Interleaving Blocking vs Interleaving StudySmarterFig. 1 - Take a look at the difference between blocking and interleaving.

While blocking is a popular study technique, evidence suggests that interleaving allows you to retain information more effectively. This is because it forces you to link concepts together, creating more neuron pathways in the brain. When a topic is mentioned in an exam, the more things you can relate it to, the more chance you have of recalling key details about it.

This is especially important in English literature, as there is often a broad range of factors to contemplate regarding a text and its context.

When learning about a specific text, there are many areas to consider:

  • The events unfolding
  • Themes and concepts
  • Author, setting, and genre
  • Characterisation
  • Historical context

If you learn each aspect of a text one by one, mastering them individually, you may understand the individual components, but not how they relate. How does the author's background influence their themes? How is characterisation impacted by setting? How does historical context relate to the events unfolding? Without seeing the bigger picture, it is easy to get lost in the details.

Using this technique, by the time you study the final element of a text, the first element you revised can often be a distant memory, and difficult to recall.

Now imagine you employ interleaving to learn each feature of the text in unison, practising an element briefly before moving on to the next, and relating each aspect learned to the detail before it. You understand how everything interlinks, and each time you return to the earlier steps and practise, the picture becomes clearer, and your knowledge of the text more precise.

Interleaving also helps us consider the relationship between different texts. With the comfort of using 'blocking' to study, it's easy to think of each novel, play, and poem as existing in its self-contained world, unaffected by other works of literature around it.

Interleaving forces us to think of ways in which texts interconnect. How do they compare and contrast? Does one develop on the other? Do they both fit into a genre, historical movement, or broader context that ties them together?

The world of literature is not linear, but an expansive web of interlinking concepts, influences, criticisms, and commentaries. Interleaving forces us to immerse ourselves in this web – where each new topic is added to, and enriches, the existing 'web' of knowledge we have already established.

Let's look more closely at how interleaving is used within the classroom.

Interleaving: learning

Interleaving is a popular tool in the classroom. Every time you complete a 'starter', or briefly 'recap' the previous lesson, you're engaging in interleaving. It's important to constantly remind yourself of old material. It helps to keep your knowledge fresh and makes sure you don't forget details through misuse.

Many teachers combine interleaving with 'spacing'.

Spacing is the process of returning to knowledge after a set amount of time to 'refresh the memory'.

Interleaving: process

Let's look in more detail at some of the interleaving methods and processes you can apply to your studies.

Relate new topics to previous ones

When starting a new topic, relate it to what you did previously. If you can spot similarities between the two, make a note of them, and attempt to explore why the two texts may be similar. Were they produced around the same time? Are they of the same genre? Did one author cite another as an influence? Similarly, if the texts are of the same genre but entirely different, could this reflect a change in attitudes over time?

Let's say you study Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818). It's much easier to recall details about the text if you know that it features common conventions of the gothic genre, or that it shares the theme of 'ambition' with Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus (1604).

Memory practice

Flashcards, quizzes and memory joggers related to previous topics are a good way to keep ideas from being forgotten due to misuse. Consistently test yourself on what you already know, gradually adding more questions and answers to your materials as you learn new texts.

Mind maps

A helpful way to link multiple texts is through mind maps. By choosing a text and expanding on the details of its themes and contexts, parallels can be drawn to other texts, allowing you to compare and contrast.


Collaboration is an enjoyable way to build your understanding of a text. Engaging in discussions about common themes and contexts can open your mind to new ideas, and talking about how two texts link is an excellent way to commit concepts to memory.

Interleaving: examples

The social and historical context of a text can say a lot about its production. Two authors in a similar place at a similar time are likely to be influenced by similar things. By drawing parallels between authors we can begin to build a picture of the historical factors affecting life at the time a text was created.

Both Robert Louis Stevenson's (1850-1894) Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) and Arthur Conan Doyle's (1859 - 1930)The Sign of the Four (1890) were produced, and are set in the same period in Victorian (1837-1901) London.

Both texts also focus on science. In The Sign of the Four, Sherlock Holmes uses the science of deduction to solve his cases. In Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Dr. Jekyll plays with the limits of science and reason, and meets his fate as a result.

By linking these two texts, we can begin to understand the multi-faceted debate that was occurring in the 19th century: was science and rationality the answer to all of man's problems, or were its boundaries being pushed too far?

Furthermore, by comparing the themes of the two texts, we can draw comparisons between what the author's intentions were, and what the social conditions were like at the date of production.

Margaret Atwood's (1939-) The Handmaid's Tale (1985) and Ray Bradbury's (1920-2012) Fahrenheit 451 (1953), although written almost 30 years apart, both share similar themes, like control, power, and conformity.

What similarities and comparisons can be drawn between the presentation of these themes? Is it affected by the time of writing or the gender of the author? Through interleaving, we can tackle these questions to better understand a text and improve our knowledge of it.

Interleaving also allows us to draw the most unlikely of comparisons! How about the theme of revenge in both Alexandre Dumas's (1802-1870) The Count of Monte Cristo (1846) and William Shakespeare's (1564-1616) Hamlet (1599-1601), or the shared theme of race in Harriet Beecher Stowe's (1811-1896) Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) and Harper Lee's (1926-2016)To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)?

Interleaving - Key takeaways

  • Interleaving is the process of mixing up your learning to combine ideas and boost your learning retention.
  • Interleaving is more effective than 'blocking' as it allows you to link ideas together and relate concepts to one another to understand the bigger picture.
  • The process of interleaving also immerses us in literature, and allows us to understand 'why' and 'how' things are intertwined.
  • Some of the methods we can use for interleaving are: relating new topics to previous ones, creating mind maps, quizzing ourselves, and collaborating with others.
  • We can draw comparisons between historical contexts, setting, author, themes and many other textual elements.

Frequently Asked Questions about Interleaving

Interleaving is often used in education to help improve retention of previous topics. For example, starters, mind maps and recaps are ways of interleaving content.

Interleaving means 'to alternate' your learning, mixing your ideas together to improve your understanding of how concepts link together.

The technique can be practised in many ways, such as relating new topics to previous ones, and doing quizzes, flashcards and mind maps.

The function of interleaving is to help improve your memory retention by linking ideas together.

The opposite of interleaving in learning is 'blocking', which means to learn one topic in its entirety before moving on to the next.

Final Interleaving Quiz

Interleaving Quiz - Teste dein Wissen


Which of these is not a function of interleaving?

Show answer


To help you read a novel.

Show question


What is the opposite of interleaving?

Show answer



Show question


What is the key problem with 'blocking'?

Show answer


It leaves too much time between study so you are likely to forget by the time you return to the material.

Show question


Which of these is not a method to practise interleaving?

Show answer


Relate new topics to previous ones

Show question


Through interleaving, we could draw a link between Doctor Faustus and Frankenstein, as they both share theme off..?

Show answer



Show question


In the classroom, interleaving is often used in tandem with which other technique?

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Show question


Which diagrams can be created to help link multiple aspects of a text together?

Show answer


Mind maps.

Show question


Why is interleaving so important for literature in particular?

Show answer


Every text has a wide range of content that needs to be covered.

Show question


Which of these is not a common factor to consider when studying a text?

Show answer



Show question


Define 'interleaving'.

Show answer


The act of mixing, intertwining, and combining your ideas together to help you improve your ideas.

Show question


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