Memory is a complex thing and has been the subject of lots of research. We all find some types of information easier to remember than others. Some people are great at remembering faces, others seem to have an almost inexhaustible capacity to remember dates. I’m sure most people reading this can identify things they find quite easy to remember and other things they really struggle with. For example, I am quite good at remembering what I have done, but dreadful at remembering trivia facts or directions.
There are many different kinds of memory – for example, auditory memory (remembering what you hear), visual memory (remembering what you see) and kinaesthetic memory (remembering what you experience – tastes, smells etc). There is also often a difference between short-term memory (recalling something for a few seconds), working memory (remembering something long enough to process and use it) and long-term memory. No wonder we are all different in the way our memories work!
It probably comes as no surprise that children with language difficulties often struggle with auditory memory. They might find it hard to remember longer instructions, and only remember part of what was said. They may find it hard to remember information they were told previously and relate it to new learning. This can also affect literacy, though I’m not going to go into that in detail today.
Auditory memory is something that is quite difficult to improve. Practice will help, especially in the early years, but by around junior school age, it starts to become more difficult to change memory capacity. However, this doesn’t mean there is nothing we can do. It’s just a question of how we teach it. Older children and adults need to focus on learning strategies to maximise memory and improve the amount that they are able to recall.
I’m sure that most of us use strategies naturally to help us with memory. For example, I frequently google the postcode of a place I’m going to and repeat it over and over again to myself over the time it takes me to get from the computer screen to the car, so that I can remember it to enter it in the satnav! Most of us use diaries to help us remember what we are supposed to be doing and lists to help us remember what we want from the shops. All of these things are strategies to support memory and when we use them, we are able to remember lots more. I don’t like my chances of remembering all my appointment times, even for one week, without having my diary to help me!
So what strategies can help with auditory memory? Here are some ideas:-
- Repetition – this is the strategy I described above for remembering a postcode. Repeating something over and over again helps us to remember it. This may seem obvious, but children often need to be specifically taught to do this. Demonstrate the strategy to them by repeating things aloud yourself. For example, I often play games with small children where they have to remember a list of 2 or 3 items to “buy” from a pretend shop or put in a particular location. I usually introduce repetition by getting them to take a turn at asking the questions – most kids love playing teacher, so this usually goes down well. So the child might say to me, “buy bread, cheese and carrots”. I pause for a moment, and say “bread… cheese… carrots….bread…cheese… carrots…” then say each word again as I pick the items up. Occasionally I will then get it wrong, and see if they can identify that I have made a mistake. We talk about how repeating it helped me to remember, and I suggest that they try it. Once they have mastered repeating aloud, they can then start to repeat things mentally rather than aloud.
- Visualising – variations of this strategy are often used by people who remember hugely long sequences, such as the sequence of an entire pack of cards. They often attach a mental picture to each card and then visualise each one, maybe along a particular path or in a story, to help them recall the order. Of course, this is quite abstract, and we are not going to start off at this level with young children, but the fact that so many memory masters use it shows that it is a powerful strategy. I often start off by encouraging children to picture objects in their mind as I say them. For example, I might ask them to find 3 things from around the room and as I say them, ask them to think about where each thing is and where they need to go to get them (make sure they are things that the child knows the location of well and their memory isn’t going to be disrupted by having to hunt for the objects!).
- Chunking – give instructions a few at a time and pause between them to give the child time to process and recall them.
- Write or draw – encourage older children to write things down to help them to remember them. They may find it difficult to identify what they need to write down so will need adult support to begin with. In lessons, it can be useful to give the child a sheet with the most important points already written down so that they can recall them and refer back to them.
- Use colour and mind maps. Mind mapping is a great strategy for word-finding and story-telling as well as memory. A topic for more detail another day maybe, but in the mean time I do recommend this book if you think this would be a helpful strategy for your child or a child you work with. Mind maps help you to note down information, identify what is important, sort it into topics and remember it. Many people find them useful for enabling to recall lots of facts more easily (such as for an exam).
What strategies do you find help you or the children you’re working with to remember things?
You can also find ideas of memory games to play to practise these strategies here.