Sunday, September 18, 2011


'All learning depends on
memory – without it
everything would be new
and unknown everyday.' 'You
have more brain cells in your
head than the number of
trees in the Amazon
rainforest. You have more
connections between brain
cells than the number of
leaves on all the trees in the
Amazon rainforest.'
What is memory?
Memory is our ability to
receive, retain and retrieve
ideas and information.
Remember the three 'Rs' of
memory: receive, retain,
A convenient way to think
about memory is in three
distinct parts:
short term memory
medium term memory
long term memory
We think of these three
types of memory as
operating in different ways.
Short term memory
('Electrical' memory)
Short term memory is like
the RAM on your computer.
It is limited in capacity, it's
the holding centre for about
seven pieces of information.
If we try to add an item to
short term memory, the new
item pushes out one of the
older ones.
Your short term memory can
retain (for short periods)
information which you only
partially 'understand' (like
telephone numbers ) but you
require 'understanding' to
receive and retain
information for longer.
When the power is switched
off, all short term memory
Medium term memory
('Chemical' memory)
Medium term memory can
store more data
(information and ideas) for
longer periods. Data can
only be received into
medium term memory by
regularly activating and using
the data. Even if we activate
the material regularly over a
period of time, a long period
of inactivity will cause the
memory to disappear. We
can all remember how to
ride a bicycle, but do we
remember the colour of our
first bicycle? Medium term
memory is like the hard disk
on your computer.
Long term memory
('Structural ' memory)
Long term memory is so
deep that it actually changes
the structure of our brain. In
computer terms the
memory is 'hard- wired'. Even
if the power is switched off
and the computer is left
unused for many years the
memory is retained within
the structure (circuits) of the
computer. In Italian, people
talk about the 'incarnation'
of memory – where the
memory becomes part of
our own flesh.
Receiving multi-sensory
Your working memory
receives information through
your senses. If you see it,
say it, hear it and do it in a
revision session, you will
create a four- lane motorway
into your medium term
memory. This is why you
should try to learn in a
multi- sensory way and use
them all to make as many
different 'mental'
connections as you can. So
sitting for hours just reading
will take you four times as
long to memorise the same
information! See it, say it,
hear it, do it!
Why do we forget?
Poor understanding
Poor attention, poor
Tiredness, anxiety,
emotions, mood and
Interference new
information being
confused with existing
Poor learning strategy –
not having cues or
memory triggers to
unlock and retrieve the
Disuse or insufficient
rehearsal or practice
using a review cycle
Lack of importance –
you don't remember
what you don't value
Improper organisation –
trying to cram too much
information into your
brain without sorting it
into categories
Dehydration – the brain
needs water to conduct
electrical pulses fast
Using learning strategies
to remember
Rhymes: 'I before E
except after C.' This
easily remembered
spelling rule avoids
spelling mistakes in
words like 'receive' and
'retrieve'. Get students
to invent rhyming raps to
memorise grammar
Physical prompts: in
Libya, I was taught to
use my two fists to
remember the days in
the months. If the first
high bone is January (31)
it is followed by a dip,
February (28/ 29). March
(31) is the next bone
followed by a dip, April
(30) . July (31) is the last
bone on one hand and
August (31) is the first
bone on the other hand.
Memory workout: read,
cover, write, say, check.
(repeat the workout
circuit many times!)
Visualisation prompts: to
remember a sequence of
facts, think of a regular
journey such as to
school or to the shops.
Connect each fact to a
point on the journey.
Sound prompts: the
same as above but
connect each fact to a
stage in a piece of music
you know well.
General principles to aid
Create interest: find a
purpose, 'This will be
useful for ...'
Understand it : it's
impossible to learn what
you don't understand.
Positive thinking and
confidence: often we
fail to learn because we
are convinced we can't
do it .
Intend to attend to it! :
be determined to learn –
avoid distractions.
Organise information
into sensible chunks and
rehearse: do not try to
learn too much at one
time – remember your
short term memory can
only hold seven items.
Plan what you are going
to learn.
Create associations:
it' s much easier to learn
something new if you
link it to something you
already know.
Look for meaning and
compare with what you
already know:
comparative grammar is
not a waste of time –
most languages have
countable and
uncountable nouns!
Remember the
unusual: some aspects
of English grammar and
usage will appear bizarre
to the students. Learn
them like the information
about trees in the
Amazon rain forest (see
part one).
Develop a system of
memory triggers for
each item you wish to
remember: a 'souvenir'
will trigger your memory
of a holiday.
Use a multisensory
approach : employ a
combination of audio,
visual and physical
strategies to use your
audio, visual and motor
Be relaxed: play non-
lyrical music to help your
brain' s Alpha waves
Doodle, highlight,
cartoon, underline:
decorate your notes with
colour and pictures to
make them more
Involve your emotions :
feel happy and reward
yourself when your
memory works well.
Develop an emotional
relationship with the
information you are
Use concrete
materials : make a
model or game to
represent the
information you need to
You remember best
the information you
receive at the
beginning or end of a
work session : Try having
a short change in the
middle of a work session
so you have two
beginnings and two
Training your students to
have better memories
Make memory training a
significant element of
the course.
Encourage students to
think carefully about how
their memories work.
Start each lesson by
asking students to
recount the sequence of
events and ideas in the
previous lesson.
Encourage the students
to experiment with
memory techniques.
Eliminate their fear of
investigating their mental
processes. Many
techniques will seem
strange or silly but
students will find they
Words die in lists –
encourage students to
contextualise, visualise
and personalise their
Build self-confidence by
teaching students to
begin each lesson by
repeating three times
'Every day, in every way,
I'm getting better and
Teach your students to
use diaries or calendars
to keep records of their
'review cycle'. This
should be based on One
hour, One day, One
week, One month. So a
lesson is reviewed after
one hour, then the next
day and so on.
Test students' memories
regularly so they can see
their memories
So how will you remember
all the information in this
The ideas in this article
come from many sources
Longman Brain Trainer ~
Jonathan O'Brien -
Longman 1999
The Good Study Guide ~
Andrew Northled
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