The Rule of Three has been a powerful writing principle and learning technique for thousands of years with impact in government, communication, math, science, literature, health and nearly all other aspects of culture and learning.  Some may be so bold to say that it is the key to power. A number of magical proportions! My kids love magic. This is how I use the magical Rule of Three.

Our Brain and The Rule of Three

Where is the proof in this? It all starts with pattern recognition. Humans are born with innate abilities to recognize patterns. It is through pattern recognition that you are able to process and encode information from the environment. How does the number three relate? The smallest number you need to create the most simple pattern is three. So, when you digest or process information that comes in groups of three, we are more likely to encode the information and convert it to memory because of its simplicity, rhythm, and our instinctive ability to recognize patterns. 

Magic!

What are some common examples of where you see the Rule of Three applied? Essentially, you can find it everywhere, but it may be most obvious in the context of communication. For example, you will see it in writing. Thomas Jefferson wrote life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness; we use the phrase stop, look, listen, to catch someone’s attention; and mind, body, spirit to connect to our self.  

It is also used to better engage and captivate an audience. When an author or speaker shares a trio of events, characters, or ideas, the audience is more engaged and entertained than if any other number of events, characters, or ideas were used. Consider some infamous stories such as Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Three Billy Goats Gruff and in a more broad context, the beginning, middle, and end of a story. 

Ever wonder why we write phone numbers and social security numbers in chunks of three? It is simply easier to remember any three part combination or cluster of items. Look for it in speeches, music, plays, jokes, visualizing and so much more!

In Context

When I see my children’s eyes light up with wonder and curiosity, I will sometimes use the Rule of Three to support their investigations and deepen their connection with the experience. 

It really doesn’t take much effort to apply and what kid doesn’t like talking about magic!

Today, for example, a landscaping service pulled up across the street. Fascinated (keep in mind that we are currently bound to our home due to the COVID-19 stay at home order so a crawling ant provides profound entertainment), my children ran to the window and started chatting about the loud, unusual equipment. My daughter asked about the various parts of the vehicles.  Since I wasn’t looking, I asked that she describe what she saw.  We continued chatting about ways to describe the equipment as my younger daughter started to chime in. I shared in their interest and excitement by saying “Wow, describing things is fun!  What else can we describe?” 

We went on to describe stuffed animals, toys, clothes, and other items that were meaningful to them. 

How did I use the rule of three here?

We chose three ways to describe an object: size, shape, color. 

We also used three experiences to explore the idea of adjectives.

  1. We described the items that we saw.

2. We described items that we felt.

3. We drew pictures of the items that we described.

This impromptu adjective and writing game became more appealing and engaging using the magical Rule of Three. 

Let’s explore some other ways that you can use the Rule of Three:

Storytelling and Writing

  • When we write or tell stories, we come up with three ways to describe characters or three different solutions to the problem. We may use three adjectives, nouns, verbs, phrases, etc. 

Experiences

  • When my kids and I explore topics I do my best to provide examples in different contexts. I may give a number example, a story example, and a physical or movement example.  For instance, in exploring numbers and multiples I asked my daughter how many petals a flower had that she picked up on our walk. Here is my number example: “I have a flower with 5 petals and you have a flower with 5 petals, how many petals altogether? Then, I gave her a story example: “On our walk to the garden I found 2 yellow flowers, you found 2 pink, and your sister found 2 purple, how many flowers did we find altogether?”  Lastly, I might ask her to show me two claps, two stomps, and two jumps.  These three different examples set in a meaningful context creates stimuli for the brain to better process this concept of multiples. 

Learning Environment

  • We talk about the importance of caring for yourself, caring for others, and caring for the larger community (which may be in the context of the environment, the local community, or the world.)

Choices

  • When we talk about giving choices I strive to give three choices.  On the flip side when my kids ask me a question, I encourage them to give me three choices. Groups of three sound pleasant to the ear and I find my kids tune in more closely!

Lists

  • We make a ton of lists in our house from grocery lists to lists of birds we saw on our walk.  While we usually come up with more than three, we often focus on our three favorites which we are more likely to remember and able to talk about again at a later time.

Photography

  • When my kids and I take pictures either on my phone or on their own kids camera, we use the rule of thirds so that the photo is positioned well. In using the rule of thirds you imagine a grid dividing the picture into thirds. You may want to position the photo in one of the three sections of the grid depending on the subject and background.  For example, when taking a close up of a person or animal you want to place their eyes at one intersection of the grid to draw attention to the face.

Math

  • The rule of three is used to calculate ratios and proportions.  In math it is called the Rule of Three method where you take three numbers to calculate the fourth unknown number to solve proportions. For example, a map may use 2 inches to represent 300 meters in real life. If I want to walk to the library and I know that it is 6 inches from our house on the map, I can create a proportion to figure out how far the library is from my house. y  = 300 x 6/ 2 = 900 


Science

  • I use the rule of three to talk about what makes something scientific. We talk about types of scientists all of the time. Biologists, botanists, psychologists, archaeologists, paleontologists, and so many more.  But, what is science?  Science follows three rules: It is falsifiable, replicable, and correlation does not mean causation. In an experiment scientists set out to disprove their hypothesis or show that it is false. They create experiments that can be repeated again and again with the same results.  And lastly, science says that just because two things are correlated does not mean that one caused the other. 

In the end, I facilitate learning through opportunities for practice, hands-on experience, and applications to explore content in at least three different ways. 

How can you take advantage of the way in which our minds expect these predictable patterns? 

Go easy on your mind with the power of three!

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