Accessing Information: Impact of Long-term Memory

Long-term memory is the system that maintains knowledge, information and procedures permanently or over extended periods. The retrieval of information from long-term memory, known as long-term memory access, involves the capacity to recall information that has been stored over a period of time.

Students with weak memory access have difficulty locating or activating knowledge from long-term memory. Students may reveal problems with recognizing patterns, triggering associations, transferring strategies and/or activating rules. Content areas, such as spelling, math, language, as well as behavior and social skills may be affected. Students may also have particular problems with recall access, retrieving information or skills with little or no cueing.

Here are some strategies to help students develop their ability to access information through a focus on long-term memory.

Helpful Hints

  • Relate what students are learning to information already stored in their long-term memories. For example, when learning about animals, have students talk about their pets, animals at zoos, on TV, etc.  
  • Do not let students wait until they finish a task to check understanding. For example, pause during reading to check comprehension, stop after a certain number of math problems to check accuracy, etc.  
  • Encourage students to summarize and paraphrase frequently in order to enhance the registration of information into memory.
    • Listing ("Jeremy, please list for me the three key facts that have been covered so far ...")
    • Paraphrasing ("Amy, please summarize this morning's lesson...")
    • Using review questions at various stages ("How did we answer the first three questions written on the board‘")  
  • Teach students to use self-questioning at strategic points to help trigger their recognition of patterns and to develop memory strategies. For example: What does this remind me of? What can I associate with it? Can I picture it in my mind? What pops into my head? How can I use these associations to help me remember it? (Adapted from Devine, 1981).  
  • Use physical movement, games, role-play and hands-on learning to add a sensory element to cognitive activities in the classroom. Adding a sensory element may enhance both the storage and retrieval of learned information. Follow up field trips and hands-on activities with classroom activities, such as group discussion, journal writing, etc. for reinforcement.  
  • Have students make up stories using concepts they are learning, e.g., a plant undergoing photosynthesis, an adventure through a geometrically shaped house, a role-play of a special time in history, etc. Such stories may help provide a context for the concepts and create associations in the students' minds for later retrieval.  
  • Give students practice applying classroom knowledge to "real life" situations. Discuss with students both how and when skills and information they are learning are needed in real life.  
  • Point out to students the importance of organizational structures for learning/understanding and studying/remembering. Words and concepts, for example, may be organized into semantic categories in a game format.
    • Have students practice organizing words and concepts based on similarities and differences. Use discussion, listing, concept webs, etc. For example, have students compare dogs to lions, Christmas to Valentine's Day, etc.
    • Have students organize the same information in different yet equally meaningful ways. For example, manipulatives may be organized by shape, color, size, function, etc. A history chapter may be organized into different topics such as important events, people, issues, etc.
  • Teach students proper notetaking techniques to enhance the consolidation of information and later access. Provide time for students to be active with their notes, such as listening for cues and using shorthand. Allow students to check their notes to the book for accuracy and content, to organize their notes in a meaningful way, and to rewrite extended notes in outline or summary form.
  • Modify the nature of memory tasks by allowing students to use recognition memory instead of recall memory. For example, provide prompts such as cue words or mnemonic reminders, use fill in the blank questions instead of short answer, or cloze techniques in which certain elements of a task, passage, etc. are provided for students and they must fill in the missing parts.
  • Help students match their consolidation strategies to the nature of the task demands to enhance future access. For example, learning a list of explorers for a recognition test is different from writing an essay on the adventures of those explorers, thus would require different learning strategies.
  • Give students guided practice with common testing terms and instructions to help them identify the type of memory demands involved in a task (e.g., "describe," "identify," "provide examples," "summarize," etc).
  • Teach students the benefit of elaboration when registering information into memory. Provide examples and non-examples of good elaborating. Give students practice elaborating on topics of interest to them.
  • Establish instructionally relevant breaks during lessons by having students talk to each other about what they are doing, list one or more facts or skills they are learning, or what memory strategies they are using to recall what they have learned.