Improving working memory

Signs of low working memory capacity

Researchers Susan Gathercole and Tracy Alloway describe the profile of a child with low WM capacity (Gathercole and Alloway 2007). Typically, this child

• Has normal social relationships with peers

• Is reserved during group activities in the classroom and sometimes fails to answer direct questions

• Finds it difficult to follow instructions

• Loses track during complicated tasks and may eventually abandon these tasks

• Makes place-keeping errors (skipping or repeating steps)

• Shows incomplete recall

• Appears to be easily distracted, inattentive, or “zoned out”

• Has trouble with activities that require both storage (remembering) and processing (manipulating information)

Ways to improve memory

  1. Play memory games.
    The card game Concentration and toys such as Simon and Bop It are good ones. Try games like "I'm going on a picnic, and I'm taking . . . ," in which everyone has a turn adding an item and repeating the ones said previously.
  2. Suggest strategies.
    Look for memory tricks that can help your child. For example, when you teach left and right, have her hold up both hands in the shape of an L. The hand with the forward-facing L is the left one. To help her recall how to read a word with two consecutive vowels, tell her, "When two vowels go walking, the first does the talking."
  3. Divide and conquer.
    If your child has to memorize a short poem or some lines in a class play, have him break the task down into parts and work on the toughest sections first.

By Esther Wachs Book from Parents Magazine

Strategies to improve memory

Integrate color. Use colored flash cards, colored pencils, or a rainbow of highlighters. Before you start reviewing, have your child identify specific colors for themes, details, concepts, and arguments.

2. Integrate visuals. Children should be given a visual representation of the information they are learning as often as possible -- it can even be as simple as a circle drawing. When working with an outline or a map structure, have your child use shapes rather than numerals to highlight information.

3. Integrate verbal processing. Let the kid talk! There is far too much emphasis on the necessity of a quiet learning environment. Many kids feel the need to "talk it out" when learning new information. Give your child a tape recorder, so that she may record herself as she studies. Talk with her about what will be on the test before the review begins, then talk it out again halfway through the review, and once again at the end of the review. Let her talk to herself if she needs to when studying. Quiet time is overrated!

4. Integrate touch. Yes, there is such a thing as tactile or kinesthetic memory. Touch and movement can help stimulate memory. Encourage your child to work at a big table so that he can lay out the material, group flash cards, or build models. Most importantly, let your child move around while studying. Have him trace concepts with his hands, draw concept maps on a white-board, walk around when reciting information, and lastly, let him chew gum or drink liquids. Believe it or not, all of these activities can engage his physical memory system.

5. Integrate application. One of the biggest misconceptions for many kids is that they think simply reading over the information will be adequate preparation for a test. But reading information is not what will be tested - they'll have to apply that information. Encourage your child to create tests for herself, and most importantly, when working with a math concept or a formula, create problems for her to solve.

6. Integrate visualization. I know this one may sound a little New Age-y (trust me, I think so too!), but for some minds, visualization is the key to memory. For every piece of information that your child is attempting to memorize, have him think of a picture for it -- whatever comes to mind. It takes 30 seconds, but it's often the key to long-term memory.

7. Integrate mnemonics. This is the opposite of visualization, but it's great for kids who are linguistic. When working with a linguistic learner, have her think of a rhyme or a catchy wordplay to associate with a set of terms or ideas. This allows kids to store the information through a mnemonic device -- an age-old strategy for retention. This memory technique is very effective for some kids, but not so great for a kid like me who can't hear rhyme as result of a deficit of phonetic awareness (i.e., dyslexia).

by Jonathan Mooney


Other games

1. Any memory game

2. Kim's Game

Put 10 things on a tray and ask the students to look at them for a few seconds. Then take them away and ask them to call out what they remember. Another way of playing the game is to cover the things, take one thing away and ask the child to spot what is missing. You can put more things out as they get better.

3. I'm going to the beach

One person starts the game by saying, "I'm going to the beach and I'm going to bring my..." Fill in the blank with anything you want, "thongs", for example.

The next person then repeats the first line and adds another item, "I'm going to the beach and I'm going to bring my flip flops and my sun lotion".

Play continues around the group with each person repeating the items mentioned and adding their own at the end. Each player must begin with the phrase "I'm going to the beach..." and must list all items in the correct order. The game starts over when someone forgets an item or gets the order wrong.

It's also fun to change the opening line. Instead of the beach you can go to the park, the market, grandma's house, or wherever you choose