Dr. Thorne is the clinical director at the Center for Development and Learning (http://www.cdl.org/) a nonprofit organization that specializes in the development and dissemination of research, knowledge, and best practices that impact teaching and learning.
The following strategies are offered to help students develop a more efficient and effective memory. I think this is very useful whether you are student or not. This listing is by no means exhaustive, but rather is meant as a place to begin.
1. Take the mystery away.
The first and perhaps most important strategy is to insure that all students understand how memory works and identify their particular profiles of memory strengths and challenges. Then, students should be taught memory management strategies.
2. Give directions in multiple formats.
Students benefit from being given directions in both visual and verbal formats. In addition, their understanding and memorizing of instructions could be checked by encouraging them to repeat the directions given and explain the meaning of these directions. Examples of what needs to be done are also often helpful for enhancing memory of directions.
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.
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 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 and write down the steps in their calculations. This will help prevent them from loosing their place and forgetting what they are doing.
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 and learning activities.
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, CliffNotes or other similar study guides for pieces of literature are often helpful aids for priming the memory.
11. Use Post-Its.
The use of Post-Its for jotting down information can be helpful for students who have short-term memory or working memory challenges.
12. Activate prior knowledge.
In order to enhance the likelihood that students will elaborate on new incoming information, teachers should activate their prior knowledge and make the new information meaningful to them. An easy way of accomplishing this task is to ask, “What do you know”, “What do you want to know”.
13. Give extended time.
If students have difficulty with the speed of retrieving information from memory, they should be given extended time for taking tests so that a true picture of what they know may be gained.
14. Use multisensory methods.
When learners, both young and old, experience something through multiple senses, they are much more likely to remember it. Use a Multisensory approach by engaging as many of the senses as possible when teaching (seeing, touching, hearing, smelling, and tasting).
15. Review material before going to sleep.
It should be helpful for students to review material 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) interferes with consolidation of information in memory.