Holding Information in Mind: Impact of Long-term Memory

Long-term memory is the system that maintains knowledge, information and procedures permanently or over extended periods. Consolidation occurs when information from short-term or working memory is transferred into long-term memory and filed for later use. Students with weak long-term memory consolidation may have trouble organizing information into meaningful categories or filing information in a meaningful way, thus impacting the development of understanding.

Here are some techniques to help students enhance their understanding through long-term memory strategies.

Helpful Hints

  • Review previous lessons and relevant material to trigger information  
  • Students can be prompted to process information actively through the use of memory strategies as opposed to processing information passively. For example, have students write "memory plans" before studying for tests or undertaking course work or activities that require a lot of memory, particularly courses with a cumulative knowledge base (i.e., what is learned in October will be important in May).  
  • Shift between multiple formats, such as auditory, visual, and experiential, during instruction. Call students' attention to format shifts. For example, "First I'm going to show you a map of the country we will discuss. Look carefully at the details. Then, we will talk about its important attributes." Follow up on experiential learning activities (field trips, guest speakers, hands-on activities, etc.) with organized discussion, journal writing, class projects, etc. to help students consolidate what they are learning.  
  • Model the use of techniques for organizing and remembering information, such as rehearsal, elaboration, and mnemonic strategies, during your instruction. For example, recode information into your own words by paraphrasing and summarizing throughout a lesson. Point out explicit connections between a strategy and its value to learning and remembering. For example, "Making a list of the geometric shapes we've covered before doing the worksheet will help us remember the shapes and do a good job on the worksheet."  
  • Create a study buddy system. Make use of peers to help each student gain a complete understanding of directions and "to be remembered" information. For example, set up study pairs where students check their notes with each other for accuracy before beginning an assignment or studying for a test.  
  • Use episodic memory to enhance semantic memory and vice versa. Give students direct experience with a topic to build episodic memory then have students transfer what they've learned into semantic memory. For example,
    • Use physical movement, games, role-play and hands-on learning to add a sensory element to the cognitive activity. Adding a sensory element can enhance both storage and retrieval.
    • Relate learning materials to information already stored in long-term memory. For example, when learning about animals, have students talk about their pets, animals at zoos, on TV, etc.
    • Have students make up a story using key 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.
    • Follow up field trips and hands-on activities with classroom activities for reinforcement, such as group discussion, journal writing, etc.
    • Give students practice applying their knowledge to "real life" situations. Discuss with students both how and when skills, information, etc. they are learning are needed in real life.  
  • Promote students' use of strategies for learning, remembering, and using information. Students with no strategy use will require teacher induced strategies, however; it's best to build upon student generated strategies when possible. Question students about their problem solving habits, study habits, natural modalities (e.g., do they picture things in their heads‘), etc. to guide strategy development.  
  • Provide students with a set of questions to ask themselves while learning and studying to help promote their own development of 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, 1987).  
  • Expose students to the many types of memory strategies effective in helping to learn and remember information. Allow students to practice using different mnemonic strategies, finding the strategies that are best suited to them. For example,
    • Subvocalization: Encourage students to subvocalize (or whisper) important information as it comes in or is read. Use group rehearsal. For example, "Softly repeat each word as I give it to you before writing it down." Incorporate visual imagery "scratch pads" into the vocalizations. Students picture in their minds the words, ideas, etc. as they vocalize. Teach students that vocalizing is an important step in the mastery of new strategies.
    • Rehearsal strategies: Teach effective rehearsal techniques with direct instruction and model the use of appropriate rehearsal as a memory strategy. For example, when teaching a new spelling word, demonstrate saying the letters aloud and writing them several times on the board. Be sure students rehearse in a productive way. For example, writing the entire word several times is much more meaningful than listing one letter at a time down the page. Students without independent strategies may require guidance in what is most productive.
    • Elaboration strategies: Teach students how to add visual or verbal information to what is being learned to create associations and provide a trigger for later recall. For example, Letter-sound visual associations- Picturing the letter f as the stem of a flower; Acrostic elaborations, e.g., a strategy for the planets – "My very excellent mother just sells nuts until Passover" (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, Uranus, Pluto), to remember the resetting of clocks – "Spring forward, Fall back", etc.; First letter, or acronym, method, e.g., a strategy for the Great Lakes is HOMES (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior), a strategy for the colors of a rainbow is ROYGBIV (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet), etc.
    • Mental Imagery: Associating easy to remember symbols with items to be remembered, such as: cherry tree/George Washington, top hat/Lincoln, vacuum cleaner/Hoover; Creating visual images (reconstructive elaboration) – picturing an emperor with a robe and crown in your mind when learning the meaning of the word "czar"; and Creating visual images for concepts, people, and entire ideas.  
  • To enhance your ability to teach strategies effectively, use a checklist or helpful mnemonic, such as MIRRORS (Adapted from Rafoth, 1993):
    • Model strategy and explain how to carry it out.
    • Inform students when and how to use it.
    • Remind them to use it.
    • Repeat the strategy for practice.
    • Outline why the strategy is useful.
    • Reassess students' performance when using the strategy.
    • Stress the generalization of the strategy to other appropriate activities, content areas, settings (other classrooms and at home) and over time. (Provide opportunities for students to practice using a strategy under these different conditions.)