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Monday 8 September 2014

3 Ways to Improve Your Children's Memory To Help With Learning

Here in New South Wales, the Year 12 students are studying hard for their HSC (Higher School Certificate). To help students memorise facts I have put together these three memory strategies. These are the strategies that I have taught my nephews and nieces to help them with studying. They work for older students as well as younger children. In fact, they work for any one who wants to improve their memory.

The first time I came across memory strategies to help with learning was during university while studying business psychology and then later while studying educational psychology. Memory strategies are techniques that help to improve memory. There are many but the most common and the easiest are the three below. Teach your children these to help with memory recall. 

1. Mnemonics 
These are memory strategies to help recall information. There are different types but most of us will have been taught some of them in school such as ROY G BIV for the colours of the rainbow (name using 1st letters: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet) and My Very Excellent Mother Just Sent Us Nachos for the planets (phrase using 1st letters: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune). These are common ones but teach your children to make up their own for whatever they need to memorise in a list order. I did this all the time when I was in university and it helped a lot!

Another mnemonic is to put it into a song such as the Alphabet song which helps children to learn the alphabetical order. (Some schools test children in writing the letters of the alphabet in order. I find that prekindy students can usually write a b c but after this they begin to ask "what's next?" So I tell them to sing the alphabet song as they write it and it helps them tremendously.) Some other examples of this is the Islamic months by Zain Bikr. What he did was he put all the Islamic months from Muharram to Zhul-Hijr into a tune and many students have learnt the Islamic months by singing it. The other example is the names of the 25 Prophets of Allah sung by Zain as well. And of course there are many versions of the 99 Names of Allah. If your children's learning style is auditory then put whatever they are learning into a tune that they know well. Older students can do this too.

2. Imagery
This is the use of images to help recall information. I use this a lot as well. I'm very visual so I have to see things or imagine that I see things. But it works just as well for everyone.

There are different ways to visualise. The simplest is to form mental images for words.  For example, if your children are trying to memorise the meanings of the words in the water cycle such as precipitation, evaporation, transpiration and condensation, then have them picture a p on a dark cloud with rain falling down for precipitation, picture water vapour rising from the sea with an e for evaporation and water vapour rising from trees with a t for transpiration and picture a c on rain clouds forming for condensation. Once they have these images locked inside their head then if you say condensation they should immediately recall a c on clouds forming.

Similarly, have your children form mental images of what they are reading. This is great for reading comprehension and I always tell all my students to always picture in their head what they are reading to better understand it.

Visual or graphic organisers and concept or mind maps are basically diagrams that help you to see the relationship between concepts, ideas or things. I remember studying statistics in high school and it was the one thing that I couldn't understand simply because there were so many formulas and I didn't know when to use the correct ones. It wasn't until I had to do statistics again in university that I needed to understand it. So I decided the best way was to draw a diagram that linked all the formulas together. Once I had this, it made total sense.

There are many ways to draw diagrams, here's one example and here's another. Start with the concept that you're trying to learn and write this down either on top or in the middle of the page. Next, list the different categories that this concept has. Within each category, write down any related concept and keep doing this for each one until you can go no further. Link them all together by lines and/or linking words to explain the relationship. So if your children are learning Shakespeare, the different categories would be plays, sonnets and poems. Then within the category 'plays' there are comedies, tragedies and histories and again under each title they would list the names of the plays in that category. Next, go through the sonnets and poems and have your children ask themselves if they are able to be grouped in any way. If they cannot go further then that's it. 

3. The Method of Loci
This is using locations on a path of a place that we know really well to help recall a list of information. I have tried this and it works but it's not something that I usually do. It is great for remembering a list of things just like the mnemonics.

Imagine you're walking from your mailbox to your house and then through to each room. Along the way, there would be some 'landmarks' that you would place each item that you needed to remember. Say, the first landmark is the mailbox, then as you walk there are the doorsteps, the entrance door, a hallway table, your bedroom door, the bathroom door, the kitchen bench, the television, bookshelf and the backdoor. Since you walk this path everyday you already have these things in order in your head. So if your children are learning the first 10 elements of the periodic table then have them visualise hydrgogen or the letter h in the mailbox, then helium (He) on the doorsteps, lithium (Li) at the door and so on. If they want to memorise 20 elements then they would need to have 20 'landmarks' as they walk through their house or choose another familiar but longer pathway.

There are many more memory strategies, these are a few to get your children started. We have all used them before because we have been taught some of them in school. The challenge now is to have your children apply them in their own learning to help them improve their memory.

Which ones have you used and how have they helped you?

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