I clearly recall it;Primary;My best lesson

15th May 1998 at 01:00
Mnemonics, rhymes, chants ... Kate Allott suggests ways to help children remember things.

I recently saw a group of 10 and 11-year-olds being given a mnemonic to help them remember the order of the planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto. It was something to do with mouldy jam sandwiches - but clearly it didn't work for me.

It set me thinking, not only about how we remember things but also about what we teach children about memorising. We talk somewhat dismissively about rote learning, but, for multiplication tables, for example, automatic and effortless recall is very useful.

Teachers regularly give children tips on remembering things which will be useful to them - and indeed it goes on throughout education: nursery nurses all remember PIES - physical, intellectual, emotional and social development; learner drivers chant "Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre". We think of Richard Of York Giving Battle In Vain when we want to draw a rainbow.

But it's not enough to teach children tricks. We need to get them thinking and talking about what really helps them to remember.

STEP 1: talk about what sort of things we really need to remember, and why. In school, these could include multiplication tables, spellings of common words, weekly routines, class rules. Out of school these might include phone numbers, addresses, things to remember for school. Decide what things really aren't worth remembering. Discuss what things children are supposed to remember but don't - brushing teeth, rules about apostrophes.

STEP 2: look at ways people support their memories - lists, noticeboards, diaries. Are there ways of using these in school? Involve the children in writing reminders, so they see it as something they do rather than something which is done for them.

STEP 3: whenever something needs to be memorised, don't just teach a trick - ask the children whether they feel it works for them. Often our own methods and inventions work best for us, but not for others.

STEP 4: consider the options. When it comes to memorising, you can:

* say it * sing it * see it * sort it * do it * tell a story about itor a combination of these.

Saying it: it may be a single word or acronym, or a chant or rhyme. A strong rhythm and rhyme make word more memorable: who could forget that: In fourteen hundred and ninety-two

Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

Seeing it: children can record information in ways which help them to remember by seeing - drawing pictures, using colours or layout as a visual prompt.

Sorting it means remembering by looking for patterns and connections. We do not try to memorise the spelling of every word separately; instead we group words according to common spelling patterns.

Doing it: we will remember a sequence of actions better if we actually carry it out, or the spelling of a word if we write it.

The advertising industry can teach us something about harnessing memory. Make it short and snappy, make it meaningful, make it funny. Give it a pithy slogan and a catchy tune - and then repeat it ... and repeat it ...

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