Memory Devices for Our Children

I have worked with youth of varied ages and I am often amazed at how many old, fundamental learning techniques are no longer in use. As the saying goes, “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.”  Some of the old methods such as recitation and repetition worked quite well.  We used to call them drills and though they could be heard by passersby, they worked.  Students remembered and it showed on tests and other assessments as students retained information.

According to ehow, it states,” A useful technique for enhancing memory is to recite and repeat. When a person recites an idea or new information aloud, the concept anchors in two different senses. A person will not only hear the information but also feel a physical sensation in the throat and on the lips and tongue when reciting the concept.” 

 I do not believe that there is enough recitation in schools these days.  I worked with a principal a few years back and he employed the most interesting way to utilize student wait time.  As students were waiting in line to pass from the lunchroom, he had the entire class recite a chosen number of their time tables in unison.  For example, he might tell them that they had to recite their 11’s and they did.  It was nice to hear it.

Time tables

It reminded me of how I learned my time tables and if put to task, I could still do it.  I have since found that many of the upper middle school children do not know their time tables.  If asked a math question, I have seen counting fingers come out or a search for a calculator.  Both were bothersome images for me.

Recitation does work and that information will come back to the surface. I can still remember parts of Hamlet’s soliloquy, “To be or not to be,” that I had to recite for a Shakespeare class in college. Reciting truly helps store information away in our memory banks which can be retrieved when needed. Drills need to be reincorporated on all grade levels and I believe that there would be an upsurge in school test scores.  We are never too old to recite, sing or practice through oral language.  The participation requires an action which activates the mind and makes information stay with us longer.

When I was in elementary school, we used to sing on a regular basis. We sang in the afternoons and it was a form of relaxation from the earlier drills of the day.  I still have fond memories when I hear the song, ‘O Shenandoah.’  I test myself to see how many of the words I still remember. Singing taught us teamwork as we sang in unison and recalled the lyrics.

I did a baseball unit and taught the 3rd and 4th graders the song, “Take me out to the ballgame.”  The students were uncomfortable at first because they were not accustomed to singing in unison with their classmates.    I put the words on a large post-it and they actually enjoyed it. From that point on, they will be able to sing along with the televised ball games when they hear the song. The interim principal said that it warmed his heart to hear the children singing as he walked by the library.  We all know how the singing voices of little ones make us feel.  They remind us that life goes on to a beat and a rhythm.

In another instance, I realized that many of the children did not know the nursery rhymes that I was referring to in a lesson.  What is a child’s life like without Mother Goose? I immediately got busy and found a website called  I projected it and we started reciting and learning some of the old basic rhymes like Jack and Jill. Various websites claim that these nursery rhymes teach phonological awareness and word families.  To me, they teach poetry, recitation and peeks into eras of time.

When Jack broke his crown that should automatically generate a discussion about why Jack had a crown and what that meant in comparison to today. Or when Humpty Dumpty had a great fall, and all of the king’s horses and men could not put Humpty Dumpty together again, this is a great time to talk to the children about the king and his men. And of course, we cannot leave out the fact that Humpty Dumpty was an egg.

As I did some research for this post, I discovered a mnemonic device for remembering the Great Lakes.  It was new for me and I really liked this one because the Great Lakes have always been a part of my life.  So, HOMES helps students recite the five Great Lakes: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Superior.  Now, I won’t forget this memory device.

There are so many ways to help our students remember what they need to know. Recitation, repetition and drills can still help our children retain information.  It may be a little noisy for the other family members as our children repeat things that they are learning, but these techniques have been tried and tested.  They are foolproof and the needed skills will be in their heads waiting to be retrieved, when technology is not available.

Whether remembering those pesky time tables, the lyrics to some song or a nursery rhyme, all of that recitation, drilling and repetition truly pay off.  Like money in the bank, the information is there for a withdrawal upon request.

Lynn                                                                                                                  September 7, 2014


2 thoughts on “Memory Devices for Our Children

  1. This was so “right on” Lynn! I have always felt that students retained important information easily through recitation and drill. Those “old school” methods really worked for us. I can still recall words to many of the famous poems that I memorized in elementary school, and of course all my multiplication tables. Thanks for that HOMES method to recall the Great Lakes!

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