Instant recall

15th June 2001 at 01:00
'Pegging' enables pupils to learn new words and structures in minutes and remember them accurately months later, claims Barry Smith

This year I have been using a range of accelerated learning techniques which has revolutionised my teaching. Thanks to these techniques pupils can faultlessly recall every item of vocabulary and every structure that they have been taught since the beginning of the academic year. The techniques are quick and easy to apply, they free up hours of lesson time, they work for pupils of all abilities, they make it impossible to forget new language and allow instant recall of previously learned material.

I no longer need to drill vocabulary with flashcards or spend huge amounts of time consolidating new language through games and activities. Pupils can acquire and retain 10 new structures in around 10 minutes and, nine months later, they are still able to recall every item instantly.

I have used these techniques with mixed-ability Year 7 classes, Year 8 SEN groups, top-set German classes and bottom-set Year 11 French groups, and they have been successful with all my groups across two languages and two key stages. For example Year 7 have used these techniques to memorise classroom objects, Christmas presents, animals, hobbies and food. Every pupil can recall every single item in the exact order in which they were taught. My Year 9 German class memorised a range of past tense activities in September, and they can all still recall each and every item without hesitation. The Year 10 French middle set use these techniques to recall past and future tense activities and then adapt them using the present participle and apres, avoir or etre. They never confuse gender or auxiliary verbs. Year 8 SEN pupils memorised activities in the past tense too, and the Year 11 bottom set went into their oral exam able to talk confidently about what they did last weekend and will do next.

These techniques, which draw on the work of learning guru Alistair Smith and a number of other internationally recognised experts in learning theory, work with learners' individual learning styles by exploiting visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learning preferences. The techniques acknowledge and cater for right or left brain dominance within individuals. There is a wealth of theory behind the techniques but you do not have to understand the theories in order to use them in your classroom.

One such technique is "pegging". All successful pegging requires is imagination. Take the example of the 10 hobbies I recently taught to Year 7. Pupils close their eyes and imagine as scene as I describe it to them. I ask them to add greater detail to the images, to add colour, movement, smell, whatever it takes for the image to become personal and meaningful to them. They associate a strong visual image to 10 body "pegs": feet, knees, thighs, bottom, waist, shoulders, neck, face, head, sky. A typical visualisation would go like this:

Imagine on your feet thre are huge blue flashing signs saying cinema. It is a blue sign because cinema is masculine. You and your friends are queuing outside the cinema, but it is an 18 certificate film so you are all wearing false beards and moustaches to look older. What colour is your beard? Long? Short? Only you know because it is your imagination. This cinema isn't in the main street. It is down a dark and dingy back alley. Can you see the rubbish in the alley? Imagine the graffiti on the walls. Every time you think of your feet you think aller au cinema. You use au because it is a blue cinema; it is masculine.

On your knees you've got pink sand. Why? Because the beach is feminine. Again you have got to go down a dark alley to get to the beach. There is a sign at the beach, and it says you've got to be a certain age to play on the beach. It is called play age or plage. Every time you think of your knees you think aller ... la plage.

The list goes on. Each piece of vocabulary is illustrated by an image, the more vivid the better. The image is pegged to a part of the body so you know where to "look" for the item. It is like a filing system where nothing gets lost.

I believe I can recall every item of vocabulary I have taught with these techniques in the order I taught them. So do not think, "I have a terrible memory so it wouldn't work for me" or, "I have a poor sense of imagination so it wouldn't work for me" or even, "It wouldn't work with the type of pupils I teach". It is well worth trying them out.

Pegging technique

* Link a strong visual image of the item you want to remember to a part of your body. My Year 7 associate feet, knees, thigh, bottom, waist, shoulder, neck, face, head, sky with poisson, lapin, chien, chat, cochon d'inde, poney, souris, hamster, oiseau, tortue.

* You can use the same list of pegs as many times as you want. My Year 7 associate the body pegs with classroom objects, animals, presents and hobbies.

* Use vivid detailed images to lock in items to your long-term memory. Make the image striking by making it incongruous, outrageous, funny or even rude.

* Make the images animated wherever possible. Action-orientated images that involve the learner are thought to have greatest impact on kinesthetic learners. Make the action crazy or nonsensical for more effect.

* Make every image bold, bright and bizarre. We do not remember bland images.

Finding out more

Accelerated Learning in the Classroom by Alistair Smith (Network Educational Press, pound;15.95)

Understanding Neuro-Linguistic Programming in a week by Mo Shapiro (Hodder amp; Stoughton, pound;6.99)

Effective Memory Techniques in a Week by Jonathan Hancock and Cheryl Buggy (Hodder amp; Stoughton, pound;6.99)

Mega Memory by Kevin Trudeau. Web:

Barry Smith teaches French and German at Croesyceiliog comprehensive school, Cwmbran, South Wales. E-mail:

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