Well surprisingly, I learned there is actually no scientific basis for these percentages! (For one example, check out the article: “Debunk This: People Remember 10% of What They Read”.) Even so, I believe there is still a good amount of truth to this statement.
Think about your most successful lessons…. they probably engaged your students in a variety of ways. Visual aids, hands-on activities and opportunities for discussion all work together to embed learning in a way that any one of those strategies on it’s own never could. Then if you add to that list the act of teaching another person, your lesson will really stick. (I know I personally learn something best when I teach it to someone else!) Opportunities for students to teach other students are all around, but you have to be on the look-out for them.
If you’re a home school parent, encourage your children to teach what they’ve learned to a friend, sibling or other relative. In a traditional school setting, students who were absent when a lesson was taught can be “caught up” by another student. If your school uses a “buddy” program, have your students teach a new concept they’ve learned to their buddies. You could also make “teaching” an occasional homework assignment. So get creative… go for the 90% whenever possible and watch your students’ retention soar!