[Strategy]: Helping Students With Memory Challenges

Last time, we discussed the role that memory plays in effective learning. We are following up with some tips that can help your child hone her memory and improve her performance at school.


  • Create a study place.  It should be free of unintentional noise, interruptions, and tempting distractions, like the television, laptop, and cell phone.
  • Cue your child for important information. You can say, “I want you to remember this,” or “This is important to try to remember.”
  • Give a summary count. You might say, “There are 10 new vocabulary words. Five are verbs related to sports, and five are adjectives that describe weather.”
  • Give an example from life that connects new learning to things s/he knows. Help your child see how new material is relevant or related to things he already knows. In math, for example, you can ask questions (these are basically “word problems”) to show how subtraction can help him determine how many candies his allowance can buy. If a science lesson focuses on how animals adapt to their environment, remind her that whales have blubber to protect them from the cold, and chameleons change color to blend in with their surroundings.
  • Emphasize understanding before memorization. If your child needs to remember math facts, let him first manipulate blocks (Legos are great for this) to represent the numbers involved, and draw a picture of the situation. If she needs to understand evaporation, set up a home demonstration and have her measure the level of water in a glass over the course of several days.
  • Emphasize using multiple senses in learning. When learning to read, have your child trace letters with a finger while saying the sounds and looking at the symbols. A student viewing a map can describe it verbally and point to features of interest; in foreign language class, a student can be taught to visualize the things s/he is saying.
  • Do a “run-through” to engrave something in memory. Instead of expecting your child to remember what he’s told, actually practice with him. Have him practice copying homework assignments into a notebook. If an important test is coming up, create a mock exam (there are A LOT of online resources that make this easy) for him to practice on.
  • Use humor. We do this all the time. Encourage your child to associate the material with a funny or outlandish image, or be intentionally dramatic (eye rolls work wonders). For example, if “skittish” is one of her vocabulary words, she can imagine she’s watching a school skit where some of classmates are nervous on stage.
  • Help your child create mnemonic devices. Chants, rhymes, raps, acronyms and crazy phrases take a bit of time to create, but the payoff is worth it. Rhythm makes information memorable. The acronym HOMES is often used to remember the Great Lakes: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior. Need to know the names and order of the planets? Try “My Very Excellent Mother Just Served Us Noodles”?
  • Create “cheat sheets” and keep them in a plastic sleeve. With teacher permission, help your child put together pages of guidelines, for grammar, math and foreign-language conjugation rules that he can use in class when needed.
  • Practice highlighting with your child. This skill takes time to master, but makes reviewing and re-reading the underlined material much easier.
  • Review test material regularly and immediately. Have your student focus on small amounts at a time, and periodically review what she’s already mastered. Above all, don’t cram. Creating and using flashcards is a help here. The act of writing out the cards when possible and using them regularly (punch a hole in one corner and keep them on a ring for ease of use) helps greatly with memory.
  • Have your student habituate the use of reminders. Have him post a checklist by the front door – and have him keep a copy in his locker – to remind him of which her science project is due. Teach her to use a daily planner or electronic calendar (cell phones can be a great help here), and help her develop a routine for checking it.

Got any suggestions of your own? Let’s hear ’em!

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