Overwhelmed by too much information to memorize in too little time?
We turned to sessional instructor Jason Ji, who recently presented Knowledge Retention and Memorable Learning at TRU’s fourth annual ESL Research and Professional Development colloquium. Ji regularly incorporates memorizing techniques and games into his English learning and upgrading classes.
“Having fun is a big part of what I do in the classroom because I enjoy having fun and students do, too. Having fun is central to learning. You’re going to remember more when you’re having fun and not finding the material boring or feeling like you’re not making the most of your time,” said Ji. He offered the following suggestions for improving memory.
Add description and detail
Pick a word or concept and give it some context by adding descriptions. If you’re trying to remember a species of tree, you could think: What colour is the bark? What climate does it prefer? What are some distinguishing features?
By doing this, you’re putting a multi-layered picture in your head and the abundance of descriptions helps you to better recall the tree species.
Create stories and repeat them
As an undergrad studying music, Ji had to remember hundreds of dates linked to composers, whether it was their birthdays, key moments or their deaths.
“What I would do is walk about in my room and create a story to string all the information together. Or I would use the simple technique of rehearsal and go over the same thing over and over again.”
You can also audio record yourself and listen to the recording repeatedly. And if you’re musical or theatrical, you could write short songs, raps or even write short plays, movies and documentaries about the information you’re trying to retain.
Use patterns of letters and words
Closely linked to inventing stories is using a pattern of letters or words in a creative way to help recall spelling. It can even help with a collection of words belonging to a group, such as the countries making up the G7 or the geological periods of time.
Drawing on Ji’s music background and remembering the tricky spelling of Tchaikovsky, he offered: “People could think of chai, like some kind of tea. So it starts with T and is followed by chai. That’s just something I made up now, but I know that probably would have worked for me.”
Here’s an easy way to remember the value of pi to 10 decimal places. For each number, come up with a word of the same number of letters corresponding to that number. So, 3.1415926535 can be: May I have a large container of coffee ready for today. May is three letters long, I is one, have is four and so on.
Games work best with group study. Ji uses variations of Pictionary and Snakes and Ladders with his classes. With Pictionary, you’re again adding context and details while forming pictures in your mind and having fun. With Snakes and Ladders, Ji swaps one deck of cards for ones with questions of his own creation. For example, you could be called to use a particular word or concept in a sentence or provide additional detail.
Which techniques are best for you?
“The tricky thing is to pick something that works for you—try experimenting. There’s not a one-size-fits-all, so you have to try a few different combinations,” he said. “Sometimes it’s difficult to say whether these strategies and techniques are for enhancing short- or long-term memory. This likely depends on the individual learner, but in general, they help people remember. I think they all contribute to learning efficacy in their own ways. You have to worry about short-term memory before you can worry about long-term memory.”
Here’s your homework
Now that you have a number of remembering techniques at your disposal, what suggestions do you have for recalling the proper uses of there, their and they’re?