• Working memory, also known as short-term memory, is the ability to actively hold information in the mind needed to do complex tasks such as reasoning, comprehension and learning. This type of memory stores items for only around 20–30 seconds. E.g., “Open your science book to chapter 5, page 134, and read me the second sentence.”
• Long-term memory is the storage of information indefinitely so that it can be used again and again at a later time. This type of memory can last as little as a few days or as long as decades. E.g., Memorizing your multiplication facts.
Tips for Improving Memory and Learning
1. Give Directions in Multiple Formats: Students benefit from being given directions in both visual (e.g., posted on desk, blackboard) and verbal formats. In addition, their understanding and memorizing of instructions could be checked by encouraging them to repeat and explain the meaning of the directions. Verbal, visual, and tactile examples of what needs to be done are also often helpful for enhancing memory of directions.
2. Multi-step Tasks Broken Down. Students benefit from receiving one part of a large task and completing it before starting the next part of the task. A calendar with the task broken down provides a visual and systematic plan for the student to complete a multi-step or long term project.
3. Teach Students to Over-learn Material: Students should be taught the necessity of “over-learning” new information. Often they practice only until they are able to perform one error-free repetition of the material. However, several error-free repetitions are needed to solidify the information. Information should then be reviewed often to ensure the skill has not been lost over time. E.g., reviewing addition facts once the material has moved on to multiplication.
4. Teach Students to Use Visual Images and Other Memory Strategies: Another memory strategy that makes use of a cue is one called word substitution. The substitute word system can be used for information that is hard to visualize, for example, for the word occipital. These words can be converted into words that sound familiar that can be visualized. The word occipital can be converted to exhibit hall (because it sounds like exhibit hall). The student can then make a visual image of walking into an art museum and seeing a big painting of a brain with big bulging eyes (occipital is the region of the brain that controls vision). With this system, the vocabulary word the student is trying to remember actually becomes the cue for the visual image that then cues the definition of the word.
5. Give Teacher-Prepared Handouts Prior to Class Lectures: Class lectures and series of oral directions should be reinforced by teacher-prepared handouts. The handouts for class lectures could consist of a brief outline or a partially completed graphic organizer that the student would complete during the lecture. Having this information both enables students to identify the salient information that is given during the lectures and to correctly organize the information in their notes. Both of these activities enhance memory of the information as well. The use of Post-Its to jot information down on is helpful for remembering directions.
6. Teach Students to Be Active Readers: To enhance short-term memory registration and/or working memory when reading, students should underline, highlight, or jot key words down in the margin or on sticky notes when reading chapters. They can then go back and read what is underlined, highlighted, or written in the margins. To consolidate this information in long-term memory, they can make outlines or use graphic organizers. Research has shown that the use of graphic organizers increases academic achievement for all students.
7. Write Down Steps in Math Problems: Students who have a weakness in working memory should not rely on mental computations when solving math problems. For example, if they are performing long division problems, they should write down every step, including carrying numbers. When solving word problems, they should always have a scratch piece of paper handy to write down the steps in their calculations. This will help prevent them from losing their place and forgetting what they are doing. The Touch Math system naturally provides visual cues for carrying out all necessary steps of a math problem. In addition, it is often useful for older students to use a calculator for basic facts once they understand the concept in order to complete more complex math problems.
8. Provide Retrieval Practice for Students: Research has shown that long-term memory is enhanced when students engage in retrieval practice. Taking a test is a retrieval practice, i.e., the act of recalling information that has been studied from long-term memory. Thus, it can be very helpful for students to take practice tests. When teachers are reviewing information prior to tests and exams, they could ask the students questions or have the students make up questions for everyone to answer rather than just retelling students the to-be-learned information. Also, if students are required or encouraged to make up their own tests and take them, it will give their parents and/or teachers information about whether they know the most important information or are instead focused on details that are less important.
9. Help Students Develop Cues When Storing Information: According to the memory research, information is easier retrieved when it is stored using a cue and that cue should be present at the time the information is being retrieved. For example, the acronym HOMES can be used to represent the names of the Great Lakes – Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Superior. The acronym is a cue that is used when the information is being learned, and recalling the cue when taking a test will help the student recall the information.
10. Prime the Memory Prior to Teaching/Learning: Cues that prepare students for the task to be presented are helpful. This is often referred to as priming the memory. For instance, when a reading comprehension task is given, students will get an idea of what is expected by discussing the vocabulary and the overall topic beforehand. This will allow them to focus on the salient information and engage in more effective depth of processing. Advance organizers also serve this purpose. For older students, Cliff Notes for pieces of literature are often helpful aids for priming the memory.
11. Review Material Before Going to Sleep: It should be helpful for students to review material a last time right before going to sleep at night. Research has shown that information studied this way is better remembered. Any other task that is performed after reviewing and prior to sleeping (such as getting a snack, brushing teeth, listening to music, playing video games, watching television, texting) interferes with consolidation of information in memory.
Adapted from http://www.cdl.org/resource-library/articles/memory_strategies_May06.php