Without our memories it would be incredibly difficult to learn new things, to learn a language, or to develop relationships. So how do memories work, and how can you help students to improve their recall?

What is memory?

Memory is the ability to store, retain and subsequently recall information. There are implicit and explicit memories.

Implicit Memory vs. Explicit Memory

Ever heard the saying “Just like riding a bike”? Brushing your teeth, tying your shoes, or navigating your neighborhood are all implicit memories. We unconsciously know how to do these things automatically once we master them.

Explicit memories are those that we must consciously put effort into to recall them. Such as, learning new vocabulary words, math formulas or the capitals of the United States.

Paying attention is essential to recalling anything. You can only capture and retain what you pay attention to. Memory is impacted by meaning, emotion, repetition, and context.

Things you can do to help your students remember important information:

  • People can sustain information longer by repeating it aloud or in their heads. If it is repeated enough times, it will consolidate into long term memory.
  • People can recall visual images more easily. The sillier the image is the better it can be retained and recalled.  Such as imagining a man named Sam dressed as a turkey sitting on the kitchen counter to recall STK (South Carolina, Texas, and Kansas).
  • Using mnemonics, rhyme, or music has also been shown to improve memory. For instance, “i before e, except after c” or to recall all the Great Lakes use HOMES as an acronym for Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, S
  • One study found self-testing more than doubles recall. For instance, to memorize new vocabulary words, the students could use flash cards with the word, a picture of the word, and a definition on the back then quiz themselves.
  • Connecting meaning and context to information improves recall. Use real life items and explain how they are useful to daily life.  For instance, using fake money and having students role play buying items at the store or riding a bus.
  • Emotional events and personal stories tend to be remembered more easily. For example, to teach students about resilience or motivation, connect information to feelings and stories by showing YouTube videos which emote touching or happy feelings.  Or ask students to share stories about how they have overcome difficulties in their lives.
  • Encourage students to exercise and get sufficient sleep. Some studies have found that when people study right before going to sleep, they retain information much better.  Sleep provides the “save” button on new memories.
  • Exercise has been found to increase attention spans when used regularly. And attention is essential to learning.  In the classroom, you can use brain breaks or do yoga for short periods to get a few minutes of exercise and rejuvenate.

For more information about memory, visit PANDA’s website at

Contact PANDA: Phone 763-504-4095 | Email [email protected]

Additional resources:

Wendy Sweeney, MA, Licensed Psychologist, PANDA Manager PANDA
Moira Knutson, PANDA Administrative Assistant PANDA