Activity 4: Stages of skill acquisition

Description of teaching strategy

This activity allows students to learn a new skill. Whilst doing so, students examine the stages of skill acquisition and the implications of these stages on rates of learning. As students practise the new skill they will plot their performances on a graph to analyse learning curves and plateaus in learning. Students will then be involved in developing a plan that will support them to attain mastery of this skill.

What do you want students to learn?

  • Describe the characteristics of each of the stages of skill acquisition
  • Understand the implications of a learner's stage of skill acquisition on learning rates
  • Explain how the learning environment can influence the rate of learning a new skill.

Syllabus links

  • H9 explains how movement skill is acquired and appraised

    How does the acquisition of skill affect performance?

    Students learn about:

    stages of skill acquisition

    • cognitive
    • associative
    • autonomous

    rate of skill acquisition

    • learning curves and plateaus
    • implications of rate of learning

    Students learn to:

    •  examine the stages of skill acquisition by participating in the learning of a new skill

    design a suitable plan for teaching beginners to acquire a skill through to mastery. The plan should reflect:

    • appropriate practice methods for the learners
    • an awareness of how instruction may vary according to characteristics of the learner
    • how feedback will be used as learners progress through the stages of skill acquisition


Students try their hand at sport stacking, an activity where they must stack and unstack plastic cups as quickly as possible. Sport stacking helps students to develop motor skills, patterning, sequencing and concentration. It promotes hand-eye coordination and bilateral proficiency.

Students practise the 3-3-3 stack (see attached instructions) . Allow one practise run each. Then in small groups, record each person's time for completing the 3-3-3 stack. Repeat five times and record times. Plot times on a graph.

Now designate groups to different types of practice methods (e.g. massed, distributed, whole and part). Each group designs a training plan that reflects their designated practice method. Each group (if sufficient cups available) spends 20 minutes practising stacking using their plan. At the end of the 20 minute session, time students completing the 3-3-3 stack. Record times and plot on a graph with initial times.

Discuss the rates of learning for each group. Analyse which practice methods were most effective in terms of rates of learning. Discuss what other factors may have influenced each learner's rate of learning.

Design a training plan to teach a beginner the correct technique for speed stacking through to mastery. The plan should reflect appropriate practice methods for each stage of learning and show how feedback will be used to enhance rates of learning. If possible, allow students to teach the skill of stacking to a Year 7 or Year 8 class. Analyse the effectiveness of their training plans in teaching beginners this new skill.

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Checking for learning

  • What are the common characteristics of performance demonstrated by a beginner when learning a new skill?
  • How does the rate of learning change as a person moves through the stages of skill acquisition?
  • What type of learning curve usually represents the learning of someone in the cognitive stage of learning? How closely did your learning curves reflect this type of curve? What factors may have influenced your rate of learning the new skill?
  • How could the nature of the skill have influenced the rate of learning?
  • Which practice method was the most effective for learning how to stack? Why do you think this practice method was most effective?

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