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10 Tips for Teaching Memorization

Updated: Apr 22, 2019

Memorization can be such a helpful tool in life! Think of all the things you have memorized: math facts, phone numbers, states & capitals, Bible verses, months of the year, important dates (like your anniversary:), etc. Now image if you had never memorized them and how your life would be different. You may have to carry around a calculator, keep a detailed Google calendar set up with email reminders of important dates, the list goes on. 

In my time as a special educator, I found that many students struggle with attention span and/or (closely related) short-term memory. One of the best gifts I could give them was to come up with a mnemonic device or other memory aid to help transfer the information from their short-term to their long-term memory. Here is a list of my top ten tips for teaching memorization.

1. Make Connections to Prior Knowledge - When you are working to get information from short-term to long-term memory it is helpful to connect the new information to something that is already in your long-term memory. This way the new information is attached to something and not just floating around by itself. Remember we don't just want long-term memory storage but also retrieval! Ask your student what they already know about the topic and then look for creative ways to connect the new information to their prior knowledge. 

2. Multiple Means of Exposure - All students learn differently. Some students are visual learners, some auditory, some kinesthetic. If you present the new information in a variety of ways, you will increase the likelihood of it "sticking". Use #3-7 as examples.

3. Draw a Picture - Help students visualize the new information by organizing it in a picture. It also really helps to simplify the information first. For example, spelling rules can be extremely difficult to remember with their wordy definitions. Instead, simplify them by pairing words with images to help students remember like in my spelling rules posters (shown below).

4. Put it to Song - One of my favorite ways to memorize! Remember we want to connect to prior knowledge so it works well to use a familiar tune such as, "The Farmer & the Dell", "London Bridges", or other short, catchy song and come up with your own words. Here is an example of changing the words to the familiar song B-I-N-G-O, "There was a President who resigned and Nixon was his name-o, N-I-X-O-N, N-I-X-O-N, N-I-X-O-N, and Nixon was his name-o." Here's a link to my favorite multiplication songs!

5. Make it Rhyme - "30 days hath September, April, June and November..." need I say more?

6. Act it out -  Act out the sequential order of an event that took place in history or act out a multiplication fact by making the shape of the numbers with your body. 

7. Make it Hands-On - Use manipulatives to help memorize. If it's a math fact you are memorizing, write it out with magnetic numbers, write it in shaving cream or sand, build it with Unifix cubes or Wikki sticks. If it's a phrase your memorizing like a Bible verse, write it out and cut it into a puzzle, then try to put the puzzle together in the correct order.

8. Repetition - I'm sure we can all think of a least one annoying commercial where a phrase is repeated over and over! You know, the one you can't seem to get out of your head and it drives you nuts! While they are annoying, they do stick! If you want information to make it to long-term memory it needs to be practiced and repeated.

9. Be Realistic - Know your learners. Some students will be capable of memorizing more than others. Some students will need to memorize smaller chunks of information at a time. Don't overwhelm a child or they may give up. Don't make it work and don't use memorization as a punishment (i.e. you didn't turn in your homework on time so you are going to memorize all the due dates for the rest of the year). 

10. Make it Fun - Memorizing can be a difficult and boring process especially when repetition is involved. Try to make it fun and interesting by writing a funny song, practicing it several different ways, breaking it into chunks, and offering rewards.

I hope you found this list helpful! If you have other mnemonic devices that you found success with please share in the comments below. Thanks!

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