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3 Surprisingly Simple Ways to Boost Memory & Recall

Homepage Forums Brain-Based Learning Q&A 3 Surprisingly Simple Ways to Boost Memory & Recall

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    • #7556

      As teachers, we go to great lengths to design and deliver engaging lessons so that our students master important content; we incorporate technology, we create engaging questions, and we search out the right instructional materials. After all that, it can be quite frustrating when students don’t seem to be able to recall key information even a few days after we teach it.

      This is the age-old question teachers have been asking forever, “How do we get them to remember what we teach?” Fortunately, science may have some answers. So, instead of staying frustrated, let’s get motivated to try these 3 easy ways to boost memory and recall.

      Teach It
      A study by Dr. John Nestojko published in Memory and Cognition found that individuals who expected to have to teach material to another person had greater recall than someone who expected to take a test. Through a series of memory and recall experiments, he divided participants into two groups: one was told they would have a test on the material, the other was told they would have to teach the material. Here is the kicker…both groups were tested. The “teaching” group never had to actually teach the material. Here is what Dr. Nestojko said about the findings, “When compared to learners expecting a test, learners expecting to teach recalled more material correctly, they organized their recall more effectively and they had better memory for especially important information.”

      When we think about it for a minute, this makes absolute sense. After all, as teachers one of the reasons we know our content so well is because we teach it all the time. There is an old saying in education that says something to the extent that you never really know something until you have to teach it.

      As classroom teachers, let’s use the power of teaching to help our students improve their memory and recall.

      Say it Aloud
      In classrooms, we don’t always have the time to have students participate in peer teaching. While peer to peer interactions have a wonderful effect on memory, motivation, and engagement they may not be realistic for all content because of the interpersonal dynamics in the classroom, the pace of the instructional calendars, or the expectations of administrators or supervisors.

      Regardless of those factors, one simple way to improve retention is to have students talk to themselves. Yes, I said that correctly…have students say aloud what it is they need to recall or remember. In a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition researchers found that recall increased when participants were asked to say aloud words they wished to remember. The process of saying words aloud seems to increase the distinctiveness of the words compared to words that were not spoken aloud.

      This strategy, of course, needs to be used judiciously. If everything is spoken aloud then the distinctiveness is reduced. However, when we design lessons we should consider what key words, definitions, or concepts are most important for our students to remember and then prompt students to vocalize them in order to boost recall.

      Take a Break
      Could it be that taking a break away from learning actually increases memory and recall? While it might sound counter-intuitive, your brain needs periodic breaks to help it consolidate memories. A 2012 study by Michaela Dewar and colleagues found just that – a break helps with memory and recall. Participants were asked to participate in periodic 10 minute “wakeful rest periods” during a reading task. The research found that recall improved and lasted up to 7 days after the rest period even when no review or retrieval activities were initiated.

      So, as we plan lessons let’s not forget to include the need for breaks during learning.

      Nestojko, J, et al. (2014). Expecting to teach enhances learning and organization of knowledge in free recall of text passages.
      McLoud, CM, et al. (2010). The production effect: Delineation of a phenomenon.
      Dewar, M. et al. (2012). Brief wakeful resting boosts new memories over the long term.

    • #11483
      Cid Schumpert

      Thanks for the great reminder of these three simple strategies! Students love teaching each other and teaching the whole class. I try to incorporate this strategy with each unit and allow students to present a lesson to the whole class. I love to see their creativity and enthusiasm as they prepare their lessons.

      I also incorporate the say it aloud strategy on a regular basis. I use choral response and turn and talks. The students also love to quiz each other which gives them another opportunity to say the information aloud.

      Too often I feel so pressed for time to cover more information, that I forget to incorporate breaks. Thanks for the valuable reminder! I plan to work on finding ways to incorporate regular breaks.

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