Tell Me and I Forget; Teach Me and I May Remember; Involve Me and I Learn – Quote Investigator (2023)

Benjamin Franklin? Confucius? Xunzi? Hsüntze? Native American Saying? Shuo Yuan? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following tripartite expression encapsulates an influential approach to education:

Tell me and I forget,teach me and I remember,

involve me and I learn.

The U.S. statesman Benjamin Franklin and the Chinese philosopher Confucius have both received credit for these words. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Benjamin Franklin crafted this expression. The earliest partial match known to QI occurred in the writings of Xunzi (Xun Kuang), a Confucian philosopher who lived in the third century B.C.E.

Several English renderings have been published over the years. The following excerpt is from “Xunzi: The Complete Text” within chapter 8 titled “The Achievements of the Ru”. The translator was Eric L. Hutton, and the publisher was Princeton University Press in 2014. Emphasis added to excerpts:

Not having heard of it is not as good as having heard of it. Having heard of it is not as good as having seen it. Having seen it is not as good as knowing it. Knowing it is not as good as putting it into practice. Learning arrives at putting it into practice and then stops . . .

The word “it” above referred to the proper Confucian way of life. This passage from Xunzi clearly differed from the statement under examination, yet QI believes that the Chinese saying acted as the seed for an efflorescence that included several modern variants.

Another ancient Chinese source containing a partial match is a collection of stories called the Shuo Yuan (SY). The following excerpt was translated by John Knoblock and appeared in 1990:

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The SY says: “The ear’s hearing something is not as good as the eye’s seeing it; the eye’s seeing it is not as good as the foot’s treading upon it; the foot’s treading upon it is not as good as the hands differentiating it.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

The Xunzi saying entered English by 1928 when translator Homer H. Dubs published “The Works of Hsüntze”. The book title employed an alternate spelling for Xunzi:

Not having learned it is not as good as having learned it; having learned it is not as good as having seen it carried out; having seen it is not as good as understanding it; understanding it is not as good as doing it. The development of scholarship is to the extreme of doing it, and that is its end and goal. He who carries it out, knows it thoroughly.

In 1953 the U.S. Department of Health Education and Welfare published “Public Health Reports”. The periodical included a compact instance of the saying, and the Chinese origin was acknowledged:

A student learns more by doing than by listening. The educational philosophy of John Dewey is certainly correct in stressing this generalization. So too is the Chinese adage:

When I hear it I forget it
When I see it I remember it
When I do it I know it

In 1954 an article in a Binghamton, New York newspaper about local elementary schools included a version of the adage which used the locution “I may”. No attribution was specified:

Instruction of youngsters in the first, second and third grades in the Binghamton School District is conducted on a plane by which children learn best.

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Which is:
What I hear I may forget.
What I see I may remember,
But what I do I will know.

In 1955 the U.S. Department of the Interior published “Indian Education”, and the periodical included a different compact version:

The new type of summer session being planned is based very largely on the old Chinese saying:

“If I hear it, I forget.
If I see it, I remember.
If I do it, I know.”

In 1960 a newspaper in Pottstown, Pennsylvania ran an advertisement with a truncated version of the adage:

When I hear, I forget . . .
When I see, I remember
How true this Chinese proverb is in the realm of advertising!

In 1962 the same newspaper in Pennsylvania printed the truncated adage again. This time the words were tentatively linked to a famous Chinese sage:

Says Confucious?

A Chinese proverb says: “When I hear, I forget. When I see, I remember.”

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How true! Talk so often is empty and misleading. The printed word is the one that lives!

In 1966 the “St. Louis Post-Dispatch” of Missouri printed an article about changes in pedagogy for elementary school mathematics titled “The New Math: St. Louis Is a World Center for the Idea That Children Should ‘Understand by Doing’”. A three-part version of the saying was included:

A Chinese proverb explains much about the New Math itself, as well as the reason so many parents feel left out: “I hear it, I forget; I see it, I remember; I do it, I understand.” The new instruction has children doing things with solid objects, such as blocks, to get number relationships firmly in their minds.

In 1974 “Dixon Evening Telegraph” of Illinois printed a version with the word “involve”:

Teachers use many techniques to help learning take place. My personal teaching technique preferences would best be summarized through the ancient Chinese proverb:

“Tell me, I forget; show me, I remember; involve me, I understand.”

In 1979 a newspaper in Ottawa, Canada published a version with the phrase “I may remember”:

He passes on an old Chinese proverb . . .
Tell me, and I will not forget — show me and I may remember — but involve me, and I will understand.

By the 1980s the adage had implausibly been reassigned to Benjamin Franklin. The 1986 book “Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching” by Jack C. Richards and Theodore S. Rodgers contained the following passage:

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These premises are succinctly represented in the words of Benjamin Franklin:
Tell me and I forget,
teach me and I remember,
involve me and I learn.

In 1989 an article in “The Daily News” of Lebanon, Pennsylvania ascribed an instance to Confucius:

You mean to say that Confucius might have been on track when he claimed, “Tell me, and I will forget. Show me, and I will remember. Involve me, and I will understand forever.”

In 1990 “The Philadelphia Inquirer” of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania printed an editorial about an impressive new science museum in the city which had been created by the Franklin Institute, an organization which is named after Benjamin Franklin. The museum contained many interactive exhibits, and a descriptive brochure included a version of the adage. Interestingly, Benjamin Franklin did not receive credit:

The idea behind that philosophy is summed up neatly in a Confucian aphorism on the institute’s new brochure. “Tell me, and I will forget,” it says. “Show me, and I will remember. Involve me, and I will understand.”

In 1993 the third edition of “The Harper Book of Quotations” contained this entry:

Tell me and I’ll forget. Show me, and I may not remember. Involve me, and I’ll understand. Native American saying

In 1999 the epigraph of an article in an Eau Claire, Wisconsin newspaper attributed the saying to Franklin:

“Tell me, and I will listen; Teach me, and I’ll remember; Involve me, and I will learn.”
— Benjamin Franklin

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In conclusion, a multi-part statement about effective strategies for learning appeared in a collection of ancient Chinese writings ascribed to Xunzi (Xun Kuang), a Confucian philosopher. The statement’s meaning was not identical to the saying under analysis, yet the emphasis on experiential learning wassimilar. A translated version of the Chinese saying entered English by 1928. Many variants evolved during the following decades. By the 1980s Benjamin Franklin was incorrectly receiving credit for an instance.

Image Notes: Picture of three wise monkeys from Robfoto at Pixabay. The image has been cropped and resized.

(Great thanks to Andrew Old, Giulio Toscani, Simon Lancaster, Samuel LoPresto, Olivier K. Esclauze, Saul Singer, Meirav M. (Berale), and Naureen Khalid whose inquiries led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Additional thanks to previous researchers: Barry Popik and the volunteers at Wikiquote, Wikipedia, Quora, and StackExchange.)

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn” (Benjamin Franklin). Do you agree? Yes. In other words, being. told something is fleeting, being taught something is more memorable but learning something is unforgettable.

What famous quote did Benjamin Franklin say? ›

Love your Enemies, for they tell you your Faults.” “He that falls in love with himself will have no rivals.” “There never was a good war or a bad peace.”

What I hear I forget what I see I may remember but what I do I understand? ›

“What I hear, I forget. What I see, I remember. What I do, I understand.” Xunzi (340 – 245 BC) This Confucian scholar makes a strong point that when it comes to learning. Hearing is not as good as seeing, seeing is not as good as experience, and true learning is only evident when experience produces an action.

Who said I hear and forget? ›

Conceptually, the learning modules were based on principles that were enunciated by Chinese philosopher and reformer Confucius (551 BC to 479 BC), who stated “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember.

What are the best quotes for teachers? › 25 Inspirational Quotes for Teachers

  • 1) I cannot teach anybody anything; I can only make them think. …
  • 2) Tell me and I forget. …
  • 3) Teaching is the greatest act of optimism. …
  • 4) If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people.

What is Mark Twain most famous quote? ›

  • “Never tell the truth to people who are not worthy of it.”
  • “An uneasy conscience is a hair in the mouth.”
  • “When in doubt‚ tell the truth.”
  • “If you tell truth you don’t have to remember anything.”

What was Samuel Adams famous quote? ›

If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude than the animating contest of freedom—go from us in peace,” Adams said. “We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you.”

What are the 3 things in life that are certain? ›

Chad (Ochocinco) Johnson Quotes / #1

There’s three things in life that’s certain: Death, taxes, and 85 will always be open.

What does the quote Choose a job you love and you will never work a day in your life? ›

Of course this expression doesn’t mean that you will literally never work a day in your life. Rather it implies that when you love your work, it feels like a choice more than a burden. On the whole, it adds value and meaning to your life, and fills your soul rather than saps it of vitality.

Who said it does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop? ›


Who is Confucius and what did he do? ›

Confucius was a philosopher and teacher who lived from 551 to 479 B.C.E. His thoughts on ethics, good behavior, and moral character were written down by his disciples in several books, the most important being the Lunyu. Confucianism believes in ancestor worship and human-centered virtues for living a peaceful life.

What is the meaning of a book holds a house of gold? ›

used to mean that:

There is a wealth of knowledge in books.

What does if you look into your own heart and you find nothing wrong there what is there to worry about what is there to fear mean? ›

This quote is about letting go of that fear, about checking ourselves, and if we have done our best, to let it go. There will be situations where things don’t go as planned. There will be times when we wish things had gone better.

How can I impress my teacher words? › 10 Ways to Impress a Teacher

  1. of 08. Pay Attention to Details. Thomas Barwick/Iconica/Getty Images. …
  2. of 08. Do Your Homework. …
  3. of 08. Be Attentive in Class. …
  4. of 08. Answer Questions. …
  5. of 08. Be Considerate. …
  6. of 08. Be Helpful in Class. …
  7. of 08. Say Thank You. …
  8. of 08. Give an Engraved Item.

What to say to motivate a teacher? › Best Things to Say to Your Child’s Teacher

  • We appreciate you. Teachers don’t just teach—they prepare us for the road ahead. …
  • Your sacrifices don’t go unnoticed. …
  • You made this easy to understand. …
  • My child wants to learn more about this. …
  • You truly care about your students. …
  • You’re making a huge impact.

What are 10 motivational quotes? ›

  • “When you have a dream, you’ve got to grab it and never let go.” …
  • “Nothing is impossible. …
  • “There is nothing impossible to they who will try.” …
  • “The bad news is time flies. …
  • “Life has got all those twists and turns. …
  • “Keep your face always toward the sunshine, and shadows will fall behind you.”

How do you reference a quote? ›

If you use a direct quotation from an author, you should: enclose it in quotation marks. give the author, date and page number(s) that the quotation was taken from, in brackets.

What is active learning method? ›

Active learning is an approach to instruction that involves actively engaging students with the course material through discussions, problem solving, case studies, role plays and other methods.

How do you give credit to a quote in an essay? ›

In-text citations include the last name of the author followed by a page number enclosed in parentheses. “Here’s a direct quote” (Smith 8). If the author’s name is not given, then use the first word or words of the title. Follow the same formatting that was used in the works cited list, such as quotation marks.

How do you shorten a quote in an essay? ›

You can shorten quotes by removing words from the middle of the quote and adding ellipses to indicate that you have removed some words. Shortening quotes helps the reader focus on the key information.

How do you directly quote in an essay? ›

You’ll often use direct quotes in the middle of a paragraph. Use double quotation marks at the beginning and end of the quote, use the exact words from the original text and show your source, or your work being could be considered as plagiarism.

What’s the best study method? ›

Shorter, intensive study times are more effective than drawn out studying. In fact, one of the most impactful study strategies is distributing studying over multiple sessions (Newport, 2007). Intensive study sessions can last 30 or 45-minute sessions and include active studying strategies.

What are the five method of teaching? › 6 effective teaching methods and how to use them

  • Online learning. …
  • Experiential learning. …
  • Differentiation. …
  • Blended learning. …
  • Game-based learning. …
  • Student-centred learning.


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