Defamiliarizing the Familiar: Which One is Unique?

Defamiliarizing the Familiar: Which One is Unique?

This tool invites students to compare and justify how four items are similar and unique.


4 - 12+


Biology, Storytelling, Experiential Learning, Photography

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This tool encourages learners to contrast things that have some similarities and some differences. This helps learners attend to more details, make more connections, and pose deeper questions about why things are similar or different. The instructional strategy behind this tool is to defamiliarize the familiar. By drawing comparisons between four items, the goal is that learners will attend to details in new ways and justify how and why they see something different, or unique, in one of the familiar items.

Why Use This Tool
This tool encourages learners to contrast things that have some similarities and some differences. This helps learners attend to more details, make more connections, and pose deeper questions about why things are similar or different. By drawing comparisons, the goal is that learners will see something different in everyday, familiar things.

When to Use This Tool
This tool can be used any time: at the beginning of a unit or lesson to engage learners’ prior knowledge, during learning to have them practice applying new content vocabulary, or after learning to have them apply principles they have learned about in nuanced ways.

  • Time: 10-15 minutes
  • Audience: all ages
  • Ease of Use: simple

How to Use This Tool


  • Identify what science ideas or practices you want learners to focus on and reason through. Science practices include:
    • Asking questions and defining problems
    • Developing and using models
    • Planning and carrying on investigations
    • Analyzing and interpreting data
    • Using mathematics and computational thinking
    • Constructing explanations and developing solutions
    • Engaging in argument from evidence
    • Obtaining, evaluating and communicating information
  • Select four images that have some commonalities and some differences. Anticipate what learners might say about each of the images. Make sure one example is not too different from the others. You want learners to have different responses to the question so you can focus on their reasoning for selecting that image. Alternatively, instead of images, you can use words or identify issues related to a particular idea or concept.


  1. Distribute the Making the Familiar Unfamiliar: Which One is Unique? learning tool to your learners. Start by ​asking learners to take some independent time to think about the images/text in the four quadrants. Have them focus on the question, “Which one is unique?” Learners need time to process their own ideas before considering others. Have them write their responses down.
  2. Do a pair-share following the thinking time or ask for learners to volunteer their ideas.
  3. Collect at least one reason for each quadrant.

Modifications, Variations, and Extensions

  1. The first time you use this tool with learners, you might want to run through an example disconnected from the content you want them to focus on. This will help learners see that multiple responses are valued and encouraged, and no answer is incorrect if there is valid reasoning to support it.
  2. For younger learners, images are probably better than text for the examples.
  3. Consider using this tool at the beginning of a lesson or unit and then revisiting it at the end to see how learners reason through their responses differently.
  4. For older learners, you can have them design their own examples.


Conijn, J., Rietdijk, W., Broekhof, E., Andre, L., & Schinkel, A. (2021). A theoretical framework and questionnaire for wonder-full education. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 54(3), 423-444.

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Elizabeth Wolzak, Director, Learning Innovation, Edu Lab, National Geographic
Heather J. Johnson, Vanderbilt University
Stephanie Hamilton, Education Consultant, Global Inclusive Learning Design Reviewer
Bayan Atari, National Geographic Society
Bayan Atari, National Geographic Society
Graphic Design
Patrick Cavanagh, National Geographic Society
Rights Clearance
Jean Cantu, National Geographic Society
Last Updated

March 8, 2024

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