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Establish a pattern for long-term success

Margaret Sahin explains how to help young children and pupils with special needs improve their memory

If children can see a pattern in what they are learning, they will be able to understand and remember it better. For example, we learn numbers in sequence as a pattern, and certain patterns of letters make certain sounds. So important is pattern that there are children with autistic spectrum disorders at our special school who rely on them to get through the day. A picture timetable helps them prepare for what the next lesson will be, while "social stories" help remind them what sort of behaviour is expected. Naturally, games playing is one way in which children can learn to recognise patterns.

I have my own version of Kim's Game (in which children have to remember objects they have viewed briefly, and then spot what's been removed), which I use to develop vocabulary and categorisation skills, as well as memory, by selecting items belonging to several categories, such as vehicles, food items or soft toys. Before the game we name each item (this helps fix them in the memory), then the children are asked to show me something which fits a certain category: "something red", "something soft", "something with ears" (all ways of describing a red cuddly rabbit). These descriptions can then be used as a clue if the child whose turn it is to name the object once it has been removed cannot remember it. If the other children are responsible for giving these clues, everyone will be keen to pay attention and remember the object, even if it is not their turn, and it is more likely that every child will name the object correctly.

Another particularly good game is "I went to market" (which sometimes becomes "On my holiday I will needI" or "For our picnic we will takeI").

Each person in turn starts by saying "I went to market" and then lists all the items mentioned by pupils who have already taken turns and then adding his own: "I went to market and I bought a basket". "I went to market and I bought a basket and an orange," and so on.

It helps to play this sitting in a circle, as remembering who said each item is easier if you watch them say it. We had a wonderful version at Christmas listing our presents, and miming each gift, which was an extra aid to memory.

Children love card games and Memory Pairs is a handy one. It involves pairs of cards placed face downwards, where each player turns up two cards, trying to match a pair. It is important for children to watch as each card is shown and placed face down again in order to remember where each picture is. This can be played at first with only a few pairs of cards, placed in rows. I have even created cards in two categories (transport and animals) with a different colour back for each category, which further reduces the margin for failure. It is important children play games for success, so they have a real sense of achievement, and to build up the level of difficulty as children's memory skills improve to offer them further challenges.

As children improve their skills, you can challenge them with greater numbers of cards, using letters or words or pictures with only small differences, placed at random on the table.

Margaret Sahin is a teacher at Bardwell Special School, Oxfordshire

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