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Helping Students To Remember

Chris Quigley
Posted by Chris Quigley
July 13, 2023

Covering the curriculum is difficult enough; ensuring that students retain content in their long-term memory is a significant challenge many teachers face. However, with the right strategies and techniques, teachers can create a supportive learning environment that enhances memory formation and improves learning outcomes. This post outlines seven research-based strategies designed to address this issue. 

Dual Coding

Dual coding combines visual and verbal information when learning or conveying information. It is an effective cognitive strategy for enhancing learning and memory retention. Here is a summary of the effectiveness of dual coding:

  1. Improved comprehension: Dual coding allows learners to engage with information in multiple modalities, such as images and text, which can lead to better comprehension. Combining visual and verbal elements provides a more prosperous and diverse representation of the content, making it easier to understand complex concepts.
  2. Enhanced memory retention: Research suggests that dual coding can improve memory retention. Using visuals alongside verbal information helps create multiple retrieval paths in the brain, making it easier to recall the information later. Visuals are often more memorable than text alone, leading to improved long-term material retention.
  3. Facilitates connections and associations: Dual coding helps learners make connections and associations between visual and verbal elements, aiding in the organisation and integration of information. By linking visual and verbal cues, learners can create mental frameworks that enhance their understanding and ability to recall information.
  4. Boosts engagement and interest: Incorporating visuals into learning materials can increase engagement and interest. Visuals have the potential to capture attention, make information more appealing, and increase motivation to learn. 

It's important to note that the effectiveness of dual coding can vary depending on various factors, such as the complexity of the material and the quality of the visuals used. However, dual coding is considered a valuable strategy for enhancing learning, comprehension, and memory retention.

Graphic Organisers

Graphic organisers have proven to be highly effective tools for learners in enhancing comprehension, organisation, and memory retention. By visually representing information in a structured format, graphic organisers facilitate understanding complex concepts and the connections between ideas. Here are the key benefits and effectiveness of graphic organisers for learners:

  1. Organisation and Structure: Graphic organisers provide a visual framework for organising information. They help learners categorise and structure knowledge, making identifying main ideas, supporting details, and relationships between concepts easier. This organisation aids in the overall comprehension of the subject matter.
  2. Visual Representation: Visual elements in graphic organisers, such as diagrams, charts, and symbols, support visual learners by providing a concrete representation of abstract ideas. Visuals enhance understanding, engagement, and memory recall by creating a visual memory hook for the information.
  3. Clarity and Focus: Graphic organisers help learners break down complex information into smaller, more manageable parts. Learners can better grasp the main points and essential concepts by focusing on critical elements and highlighting important details, improving comprehension and retention.
  4. Summarisation and Synthesis: Creating graphic organisers requires learners to condense information into concise and meaningful summaries. This process promotes active engagement with the content, as learners must analyse, evaluate, and synthesise information to determine the most relevant and essential components. By doing so, learners deepen their understanding and memory of the subject matter.
  5. Connections and Relationships: Graphic organisers visually depict relationships between ideas, facilitating understanding of interconnected concepts. Learners can see the logical flow of information, identify patterns, and make connections between different concepts or topics. This ability to perceive relationships enhances critical thinking and aids in the retention of knowledge.

By leveraging these benefits, learners can improve their comprehension, memory retention, critical thinking skills, and overall academic performance.

Page Layout

When it comes to page layout in learning materials, specific aspects contribute to its effectiveness. Here are three critical aspects of page layout that offer benefits for learners:

1. Clear and Consistent Structure: A clear and consistent page layout structure helps learners easily navigate the content. This structure includes using a grid pattern to organise text, images, and other visual elements visually pleasingly and logically. Aligning elements to the grid creates a sense of order and makes it easier for learners to follow the flow of information. Consistent placement of headings, subheadings, and other formatting elements across the pages ensures learners can quickly locate and identify different sections, improving their comprehension.

2. Readability and Visual Hierarchy: Effective page layout prioritises readability by considering font type, size, and spacing factors. Using legible fonts and appropriate font sizes ensures learners can comfortably read the content without straining their eyes. Ample spacing between lines, paragraphs, and sections improves readability and prevents information overload. Moreover, visual hierarchy techniques, such as larger headings for main ideas and smaller subheadings for supporting details, allow learners to scan and comprehend the content more efficiently. Clear differentiation through font styles, sizes, and formatting (e.g., bold, italics) helps emphasise essential concepts and critical information.

3. Strategic Use of Visual Elements: Incorporating relevant and meaningful visual elements, such as images, diagrams, and charts, supports understanding and memory retention. Visuals provide additional context, clarify complex concepts, and facilitate connections between ideas. Placing visuals strategically within the page layout, adjacent to relevant textual content, reinforces the relationship between the visual and the accompanying information. Furthermore, aligning visual elements with the grid pattern and ensuring they are of sufficient quality and size for clear visibility contribute to the overall effectiveness of the page layout.

By paying attention to these specific aspects of page layout, learning materials can optimise the flow of information, enhance comprehension, and support effective learning for learners.

Sketch Notes

As a student-created learning tool, Sketch notes involve visually representing information through doodles, icons, symbols, and diagrams. By actively engaging in the creation of sketch notes, students experience the following benefits for content retention:

1. Personalised Representation: When students create their sketch notes, they can personalise their notes based on their unique understanding and interpretation of the content. They can use their own style, incorporate relevant visuals, and add annotations that make sense to them personally. This personalisation creates a stronger connection between the student and the information, increasing their engagement and motivation to remember the content.

2. Active Processing and Synthesis: Creating sketch notes requires students to process the information they are learning actively. They must analyse, evaluate, and synthesise the key ideas and concepts to condense them into visual representations. This process of active engagement promotes more profound understanding and aids memory consolidation. By translating textual information into visual elements, students simultaneously engage in multiple cognitive processes, leading to more robust encoding and improved retention.

3. Visual-Spatial Organisation: When students create their sketch notes, they have control over the spatial organisation of the content. They can strategically place concepts, ideas, and supporting details on the page, creating a visual map of the information. This visual-spatial organisation helps students see the relationships between different ideas and facilitates the recall of information during revision. By organising the content spatially, students develop a mental framework that enhances their ability to retrieve and reconstruct information later.

By creating sketch notes, students deepen their understanding, strengthen memory retention, and develop valuable study resources.

Retrieval Practice

Retrieval practice is a learning strategy that involves actively recalling information from memory rather than reviewing or re-reading it. Retrieving information enhances memory retention and promotes long-term learning. Here are the key benefits of retrieval practice in memorising content:

1. Enhanced Memory Strength: Retrieval practice strengthens memory by actively engaging the processes of recall and retrieval. When we retrieve information from memory, we strengthen the neural connections associated with that information. Each time we successfully retrieve a piece of information, it becomes more accessible and easier to retrieve in the future. This repeated retrieval practice strengthens the memory trace, improving our ability to recall information accurately and efficiently.

2. Long-Term Retention: Retrieval practice is particularly effective for promoting long-term retention of information. By actively recalling information over time, we move it from short-term to long-term memory storage. Retrieval practice facilitates the consolidation of information, allowing students to store it in a more stable and durable form. As a result, the information becomes less susceptible to forgetting and is more likely to be available for future recall, even after more extended periods have passed.

3. Improved Retrieval Strength and Transfer: Retrieval practice strengthens memory and improves related information's overall retrieval strength and transferability. When we actively retrieve information, we strengthen the connections between that information and other related concepts or facts in our memory network. This process enhances the ability to make connections and apply knowledge in various contexts, facilitating the transfer of learning to new situations or problem-solving tasks.

4. Identifying Knowledge Gaps: Engaging in retrieval practice helps students identify gaps in their knowledge or areas of weakness. When we attempt to recall information but struggle or fail to retrieve it, it highlights areas that need further review and reinforcement. This feedback allows students to target their studying more effectively, focusing on areas where they need the most improvement. By filling in these knowledge gaps through additional retrieval practice, students enhance their understanding and retention of the content.

5.  Metacognitive Awareness: Retrieval practice promotes metacognitive awareness, which involves understanding one's thinking and learning processes. Through retrieval practice, students gain insights into their knowledge level and recall abilities' effectiveness. This self-assessment enables them to adjust their study strategies, monitor their progress, and implement targeted learning strategies to optimise their memory performance.

In summary, retrieval practice is a powerful strategy for memorising content. It strengthens memory, promotes long-term retention, improves retrieval strength and transferability, helps identify knowledge gaps, and enhances metacognitive awareness. By actively recalling information, students engage with the material and create a more robust and durable memory trace, resulting in improved learning outcomes.


Metacognition and Self-Regulation

Metacognition and self-regulation are cognitive processes that play a crucial role in helping students retain content. Here's a brief explanation of each and how they contribute to content retention:

Metacognition: Metacognition refers to the ability to think about and monitor one's thinking processes. It involves being aware of one's thoughts, knowledge, and strategies and regulating and controlling cognitive processes. Metacognition helps students retain content by:

1. Monitoring Understanding: Students with solid metacognitive strategies can assess their level of understanding while studying or engaging with content. They can identify areas of confusion or gaps in their knowledge, which prompts them to seek further clarification or review the material more thoroughly. This monitoring process allows students to take necessary steps to strengthen their understanding and improve content retention.

2. Strategic Learning: Metacognitive learners actively employ strategies and techniques to enhance their learning and memory processes. They use strategies like self-explanation, summarisation, and elaboration to deepen their understanding of the content. By deliberately employing these strategies, students optimise their encoding and storage of information, leading to better retention.

Self-Regulation: Self-regulation is the monitoring and controlling of one's learning behaviours, emotions, and motivations. It involves setting goals, planning, monitoring progress, and adjusting as needed. Self-regulation helps students retain content by:

1. Goal Setting: Students who effectively self-regulate set specific learning goals. These goals can be related to content mastery, understanding, or retention. By setting clear goals, students have a direction and purpose for their learning, which helps them stay focused and motivated.

2. Monitoring and Adjusting: Self-regulated learners regularly monitor their progress and adjust their learning strategies and approaches. They assess their understanding, evaluate the effectiveness of their study methods, and make changes accordingly. For example, if they find that a particular approach is not helping them retain content, they can modify their strategy to a more effective one.

3. Persistence and Resilience: Self-regulated learners exhibit persistence and resilience when faced with challenges or setbacks. They understand that learning and content retention can require effort and time. By persevering through difficulties and setbacks, they maintain their focus on the goal of content retention and employ strategies to overcome obstacles.

Students become more active and intentional learners by developing metacognitive and self-regulatory skills. They monitor their understanding, employ effective learning strategies, set goals, and adjust as needed. These cognitive processes improve content retention by enhancing understanding, optimising learning strategies, and maintaining motivation and persistence in facing challenges.

Writing to Learn

Writing to learn is an instructional approach that uses writing activities to enhance students' understanding, critical thinking, and content retention. Through writing, students are encouraged to create complete thoughts, elaborate using nouns, noun phrases, and appositives, and employ various strategies to show relationships between ideas.

1. Creating Complete Thoughts: Writing to learn prompts students to articulate their thoughts and ideas in complete sentences or paragraphs. This process requires them to organise their thinking and coherently express their understanding. By constructing complete thoughts, students develop a deeper comprehension of the content and strengthen their communication ability.

2. Elaboration with Nouns, Noun Phrases, and Appositives: Writing to learn encourages students to expand on their ideas by incorporating nouns, noun phrases, and appositives. These grammatical structures help add detail, specificity, and clarity to their writing. By elaborating using these linguistic devices, students enhance their understanding of the content and provide more comprehensive explanations or descriptions.

3. Showing Relationships with Subordinating Conjunctions: Starting sentences with subordinating conjunctions, such as "although," "whereas," and "since," allows students to demonstrate the relationships between different ideas or concepts. For example, by using "although", students are encouraged to think critically about the relationship between the ideas presented. They must identify the contrasting or contradictory aspects of the topics and consider how they can be connected logically. Using "whereas", students learn to compare and contrast: Whereas deciduous trees lose their leaves in Autumn, evergreens keep their leaves all year round. Using since allows students to reason: Since fossils are the remains of living things, they provide evidence of life on Earth millions of tears ago.

4. Extending Sentences for Deeper Insights: Writing to learn encourages students to extend their sentences using conjunctions like "because," "so," and "but." By expanding their sentences, students delve deeper into their explanations, provide justifications, or explore the implications and consequences of the ideas they are discussing. This practice facilitates critical thinking and encourages students to develop more nuanced insights into the content.

5. Increased Retention through Writing: Research has shown that writing helps enhance retention more than other activities, such as class discussions. Writing engages multiple cognitive processes, including encoding and retrieval, contributing to more robust memory formation. By actively processing and organising their thoughts through writing, students reinforce their understanding and consolidate the content in their long-term memory, leading to better retention and recall.

Writing supports retention by engaging cognitive processes related to encoding and retrieval. By actively expressing their understanding through writing, students deepen their comprehension, strengthen their critical thinking, and improve their long-term retention of the content.


Click here to learn how to use these strategies in the classroom.

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