Strategies to Help Students Develop an Efficient Memory


Learning is a fundamental part of school and the memory demands are greater for students than they are for adults. An efficient memory is critical for success in school because students are inundated with new information in multiple topic areas. Often kids are expected to learn and demonstrate a mastery of knowledge in a variety of subjects that they may or may not be interested in. Many kids struggle with learning new information and recalling it because they have memory problems.

Memory is the way the mind stores and remembers information. It’s the mental capacity of retaining and retrieving facts, events, and impressions. Distinct memory systems are distinguished by the types of information they handle. Short-term memory is responsible for the temporary storage of information like a phone number. It has a limited capacity store that can maintain information for up to 20 seconds and is not used for manipulating information. In order for information to be moved from short-term to long-term memory it must be practiced, rehearsed and memorized. Long-term memory has an unlimited capacity for storing information for lengthy periods of time. Forgetting occurs when individuals can’t retrieve information from long-term memory. Retrieval cues are important to the process of recalling information. Working memory is the way the mind stores and remembers information. It is the mental capacity of retaining and retrieving facts, events, and impressions. Working memory is a “mental sticky note” that allows individuals to hold onto information, manipulate information and use information to learn and perform specific tasks.

Poor recall of instructions, directions, and class lectures occurs when a student has deficits in registering information in short-term memory. When a student finds it difficult to remember specific information such as dates, grammar rules or mathematical processes it’s due to deficits in the storage and retrieval from long-term memory. The inability to retrieve information from long-term memory causes students to have difficulty studying for tests and recalling previously studied information. Difficulty with working memory will cause students to frequently forget what they are doing while they’re doing it. For example, they may initially understand the three-step directions given, but after completing the first step they find it challenging to recall the second or third steps. While reading a paragraph kids may have difficulty recalling information from the beginning of the paragraph which impairs comprehension. Limited recall is due to a failure of the memory system rather than the language system.

Learning and mastering knowledge is critical in today’s world. Students with memory problems struggle to keep up with the curriculum taught in the classroom. An effective and efficient memory is necessary to achieve academic success.


  1. Reduce memory load. Introduce one strategy at a time and break specific tasks into smaller chunks. When introducing new concepts increase the meaningfulness by providing visual and oral cues. Use examples that students can relate to.

  2. Cues to enhance and retrieve stored information. It is easier to retrieve information from long-term memory if it is stored using a cue. Long-term memory is enhanced when students engage in retrieval practice. Acronyms can help students recall information for essays or tests. For example, the acronym HOMES can be used to remember the Great Lakes – Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Superior.

  3. Utilize multiple formats. Deliver directions and new information in multiple ways; utilize both visual and verbal formats. To enhance memory and ensure that students understand new concepts ask them to repeat and review information.

  4. Use visual images. Learning and recalling unfamiliar words and difficult terms can be challenging for students that have memory problems. Converting unknown words or terms into a visual picture may be helpful. Making connections from the unfamiliar to the familiar will help students become more efficient at comprehending new material and will improve recall for exams.

  5. Active listening and reading. To enhance short-term and working memory encourage students to engage in class lectures by taking notes and underlining important words and facts. Jotting down key concepts in the margin of a book while reading and making study outlines and flashcards will help to consolidate information into long-term memory.

  6. Prime the memory prior to learning. Specific cues can help prepare students for learning certain tasks. This is often referred to as priming the memory. For example, prior to reading a chapter from a novel it may be helpful to discuss unfamiliar vocabulary words, the overall topics of the chapter and to review question guides. This will help students understand what they need to learn and what the expectations are for upcoming assignments and exams.

  7. Over-learn material. Students who struggle with short-term and working memory will find greater success in school when they over-learn new material. Encourage them to practice spelling words and review factual concepts more than once. Repetition will help kids transfer information from short-term memory into long- term memory and several error-free repetitions are needed to solidify new information.

Learning is the acquisition of knowledge or skills and is an ongoing process that requires attention, focus, listening skills, practice and retention. Storing and retrieving important information is an essential part of the learning spectrum. Helping students identify strategies to improve memory is critical to achieving academic success.

About the author

Vikki Carrel

Vikki Carrel

Academic Language Therapist, Multi-book Author, National Speaker

Vikki empowers people! She is an Academic Language Therapist, multi-book author and a national speaker. Vikki grew up in Salt Lake City, met her husband at the University of Utah, and has owned several companies across the United States. In 2010, Vikki and her husband moved back to Utah from Doylestown, Pennsylvania and she founded Vikki Carrel & Company, a speaking and training organization. Read more about the Author

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