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Four tips for helping kids remember what they’ve learned

There are lots of reasons why children are unsuccessful in school. Poor performance may be due to lack of motivation, inadequate ability, family issues, ineffective teachers, laziness, sleep deprivation, or emotional problems. However, one of the most common reasons is that most youngsters don’t know how to efficiently remember what they read.

Here’s a summary of the thousands of research studies conducted by psychologists on human memory.

  1. Develop a mental template. Scan the chapter or article to get an overview of the content of the material. Stop reading now and quickly skim this entire article.  Great!  Now you have an overall outline that you’ll complete as you read. Kids need to be careful not to attempt to scan a 50 page chapter.  The key to developing a meaningful outline is to scan only what you can easily remember.
  2. Read for meaningful content.  Reading for memory is an active process. It requires us to keep asking, “is this important?”  As you read, imagine certain topics or themes sticking out of the page and embedding themselves in your memory.  Ignore most of what you read, as our memory capacity is limited. We are more apt to remember things of significance, so try to apply what you are reading to something that really matters to you.
  3. Recall what you read. This is the single most important skill for a good memory. Stop reading right now, close your eyes, and recall the first three steps of this process. Good job!  Rehearsing or recalling means putting the information in your own words, not reciting it back “word for word.” When I’m reading for content, I’ll typically stop reading about a half dozen times and summarize the main ideas of the article.
  4. Frequently test yourself. Every time you rehearse the material you are forming stronger memory bonds in your brain. If you think this article is worth remembering, summarize the content at the end of the article. If you tell someone else later today or tomorrow about the main ideas of what you read, you are more likely to remember this material.

These learning approaches are ineffective:  reading while listening to music, studying around friends, studying for more than 45 minutes at a time, or staying up all night before an exam.  I know kids like to study while listening to music, but they will remember 20-30% less than kids who memorize in silence.

These techniques work:  taking notes while reading or listening, studying for short periods of time (even 5-10 minutes can help tremendously), and applying memory “tricks” like acronyms (Roy G Biv for the colors of a rainbow) or metaphors.

Can you recall the four key steps for a good memory, and list one effective and ineffective study technique?  If you can, this article has been successful!

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