Schemas are groups of information that are linked together because they are somehow related. For example, you have a “zoo” schema that contains all of the things you generally associate with the concept, like the animals, the enclosures, that time a chimpanzee threw something stinky at you and everyone on the school trip laughed.
Information that is stored in long term memory needs to be activated in order to move it into short term memory for use. This might happen consciously, like if I asked you to recall the name of a teacher you had in elementary school. Information can also be activated subconsciously by a prime – a stimulus that activates a related concept. For example, the smell of perfume or cologne might instantly bring to memory a person that you associate with that particular smell. Similarly, if you prime one concept contained in a schema, the other concepts in that schema are subconsciously activated. You may never be aware of how concepts are being primed by your environment, but the information it activates can still have a profound effect on your thought and behavior.