Unforgettable Memory Improvement Techniques
Unforgettable Memory Improvement Techniques
By Anna Machura
Part 1 - Mindset matters
Before you start reading this article – let me ask you a few questions:
- Why is the topic of memory improvement techniques interesting to you? (Give at least 1 reason).
- How good are you at memorising things in general? (Use a scale from 1-10; 1 being ‘Where did I put my keys again?’, 10 – It’s the 5th anniversary of Mary’s cousin’s neighbour’s…whatever; who cares?)
- What do you already know about memory improvement techniques? (How many of them have you used so far? Did they work? Why/Why not?)
- How are you going to use your newly acquired knowledge, currently hidden in this article? (‘Cause you will, right?)
- Why do you think I have asked you all these questions?
* Try to remember at least 5 techniques described here.
1. Self-reflection and purposeful learning 2. Starting point and skills development 3. Background knowledge and effectiveness 4. Further engagement and associations 5. Curiosity and surprise * Fun and challenge.
‘Do what you preach’, or rather, ‘do what you teach’ – that’s my motto.
Customer satisfaction note: All techniques presented in the article have been tested and approved by previously unaware students who expressed an unexpected demand for more. The author of the article takes full credit and no responsibility for the uncontrollable craze these powerful techniques may generate among delighted learners in your class. A dramatic change in learning interest may occur upon application. Recommended dose – one technique per lesson.
The art of smart learning lies predominantly in the effective use of our knowledge rather than focusing on the theoretical side of the topic. So, just do it. Enjoy a good read and have a go at recognising or discovering some memory improvement techniques, demonstrated in a practical way as you go through the paragraphs of this article. You will find some useful explanations of the methods as well as quick, handy tips to use every day. Ready, steady, go!
It’s All About Connections
Learning, thinking, and getting into the habit of doing something – what do these three have in common? Well, they all require activating some areas of the brain responsible for acquiring, processing, and memorising new information; all that by making meaningful connections through synapses (synaptic wiring) along the way.
Tip 1: Train your brain to form strong neural pathways to link various pieces of information faster.
Our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours are closely interrelated and quite intelligently regulated by the prefrontal cortex. Realising this fact should be the starting point for understanding the ‘memory matrix.’ In reality, cognitive as well as behavioural changes are possible thanks to our constant access to a network of neural connections in the cerebrum, mainly the hippocampus and other related structures in the temporal lobe. This is done through impulses being sent - incessantly - as important signals or triggers linked to the information bank (chunks of already existing knowledge) stored in long-term memory. If you ever make two cells or systems frequently active together, they become associated, and then recalling one facilitates the retrieval process by calling to mind its partner. In a nutshell, the more you repeat some patterns, the more hard-wired they get. Thank you, Donald Hebb, for your revelations!
Considering the fact that we have more than 6,000 thoughts a day, and ‘every thought counts’ once it comes alive, we should teach ourselves (and our students) more about the importance of focusing our attention in a conscious manner. This way we can facilitate the process of remembering things much better while adding them to the memory bank. Contextual, mindful, purposeful learning – ideally with a good dose of emotions – does the job.
Tip 2: Things that fire together, wire together.
Part 2 - Now, Time For Recollection
What did you eat for breakfast yesterday? When was the last time you went to the cinema? Which row did you sit in? What time did the movie finish? What was the colour of the carpet in front of the screen? Relax, no need to answer any of the questions. The purpose here is only to make you realise that some details or events really do not matter that much.
On the other hand, we do need to be able to remember crucial information and – as far as learning is concerned – the (grey) matter deserves our special attention. Especially in recent years, neurobiology has placed a stronger emphasis on learning and memory. If we are to use any information efficiently, navigating the waters may be a life-saver.
The hippo, hippo, hippocampus plays a huge role here, the amazing amygdala assists. Both form part of the limbic system, a pathway well-known to empaths. In a nutshell, emotions are in motion and they hugely help us remember information.
P.S. Did you notice the techniques used above: repetition for exaggeration, alliteration (using the same sound at the start of a series of words in succession), utilising the same root word in two different words?
Tip 3: Avoid the amygdala hijack during the ‘flight, fight or freeze response.’
Associations, Analogies & Rhymes
What is sour and yellow? Yes, a big, juicy lemon. Did you shudder, by the way? What else would give you a strong reaction like that? Tell me about the last time you were cutting fresh onions? The more senses that are activated or triggered, the more powerful the reaction in the wired brain. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy! (Just saying)
Among numerous brain-friendly techniques, you may have come across those based on association, humour, and wordplay (my favourite). Let us see the ‘No Brainer Guide to All Brainy Stuff.’ How many of the riddles below can you solve?
You might not like these jokes - some of them are pretty corny - but you’ll remember them for days. You can thank me later! For now, carry on reading.
Tip 4: Novelty and uniqueness create interest and excitement – vary the techniques you use for remembering, including short brain challenges.
Acrostics & Acronyms
Do you agree that Big Elephants Can't Always Use Small Exits? Well, that’s probably true, but it does not really matter. What matters is that the sentence serves as a popular mnemonic device - an acrostic (a sentence where the first letter of each word is used to form a word) - to help learners remember the spelling of the word: BECAUSE.
Maybe you already know that NATO, KFC, and FIFA are acronyms - words formed from the initial letters of their terms - but did you know that radar, laser, and even scuba are all acronyms too? Who knows what the next useful acronym is going to be - so why not get your students to think one up. Maybe iPad actually stands for something else…
Tip 5: Use acrostics for different subjects, e.g., for remembering scientific terms.
Now, let me tell you a story. Once upon a time, there was a cat that used to ponder upon his existence. He tried to figure out his life purpose, and then one day he realised he might be special, truly unique. In fact, his breathtaking, jaw-dropping, and eye-popping ability to rhyme was quite impressive. Read on to check it out yourself:
Spoiler alert: All cats are special, but some are more special than others. I am the bestest. I bet you won’t forget that!
P.S. Based on a true story.
‘I think I’m special. Purrfect, hah!’
What is my superpower?
Licking myself all over instead of taking a shower.
Chasing my tail for at least half an hour,
Eating all sorts of cat food - cooked, dry or sour,
Knocking off all objects, also spices and flour,
Climbing up high, be it a tree or a tower.
Hunting in the dark? Sure - I need no light.
I can scratch every carpet that’s in my sight,
Have anything fluffy, like a string or a thread?
These are the cool things I’d put on my head.
Living with humans is really funny -
They call me ‘cutie’, they call me ‘honey’,
They pat me a lot and stroke my silky fur,
Whenever I am out from under a chair.
My real superpower manifests in a box,
(I have to wear my white super-socks)
Attention: ‘You might disappear! Pure magic, really!
Just find a big box, lie flat or start acting silly.
Also, I can wake up early without a clock.
Hey! ‘Get up everybody – it’s time to rock!’
My humans can’t speak MIEOW (my mother tongue),
I guess they are still learning or are too young,
My days are busy, my days are packed,
So much to do – I’ll tell you one fact.
All cats in the world are on a mission,
They make a perfect family addition.
I am a cat, very special, a bit like a ‘furry elf’,
I teach how to love – so please love me, others & yourself.
Storytelling is an effective means of communication. Not only does it help to structure the message, place the character(s) in time, make sense of the whole story, from the big picture to the little details, but it also facilitates remembering while following the order of events. What is more, it enhances the imagination and creativity through visualisation.
Tip 6: Personalising a task through storytelling enables an individual to add meaningful details. Sometimes so-called ‘anchors’ (links to already ingrained phrases or notions) can also be used. Find it above now, good luck!
‘The Memory Palace’ (method of loci) is a popular mnemonic that uses a familiar spatial environment to enhance the recall of information. Imagine yourself depositing your important concept-images around a chosen place. Then, you make a mental journey through the place again in the same routine order, ‘collecting’ the cues from the locations (Latin: loci). Visuals are effective as they activate our visual perception skills - the brain remembers colours and shapes better than words. That’s why we tend to remember someone’s face, but not necessarily their name.
Tip 7: When studying new material, try to take a mental photo of the page or the place.
Repetition with Rhythm
Have you heard the popular kids’ song: ‘Old McDonald had a farm’? How about using it with your learners to create a new-words-old-rhythm song for novel or challenging vocabulary? Find the rhythm, adjust the lyrics, sing it all out – fun guaranteed!
‘When you want to learn something,
Ee i ee i oh!
You can cram or you can sing,
Ee i ee i oh!
Use a simple trick,
Use a mnemonic,
You have freedom, you can pick,
Ee i ee i oh!
Here a word, there a word,
Everywhere a new word,
Mnemonics can change the world,
Ee i ee i oh!’
Tip 8: Musical mnemonics are particularly useful and easily remembered as the brain has a natural ability to recognise and tune into a repetitive pattern.
Now, stop reading the article and take a five minute break.
Stretch your arms, legs, the other muscles in your body.
Take a deep breath.
If you’re sitting down, stand up.
If you’re standing, put the journal down and think of a place you would like to be right now.
Take a deep breath (for the count of four seconds), hold it for seven seconds, exhale, count to eight as you do…
Repeat as necessary.
Brilliant, we can move on, ‘ee i ee i oh!’
Exercising your body and memory regularly
Healthy mind in a healthy body. That’s true. Simple.
Eat, sleep, learn - repeat…. Eat, sleep, learn - repeat….
You got this!
Tip 9: Put yourself in the optimal learning state before trying to commit anything to your memory.
I hope this article has been useful for you and you have strengthened your memory. Don’t worry if you have not remembered all the techniques described. The good news is that, as a side effect, you have undoubtedly built some new connections and trained your brain a bit. After all, every experience changes the brain; neuroplasticity lets us shape our existence by strengthening neural pathways, or making space for new ones through synaptic pruning, when necessary. New circuits are remapping the brain thanks to its unfathomable flexibility. It’s inevitable, so let us try to make each experience memorable.
You may wish to go through the article again sometime, starting from the very beginning. Learning by chunking (breaking up reading material into manageable sections) is recommended – that’s why I used clear headings, titles, numbering, colour coding and tables. I, myself, had done a rehearsal before writing my thoughts down to organise these techniques for you in the most effective way. Revision enables us to refresh our memory while spaced repetition (e.g. the Pomodoro Technique) encourages us to do it in a timely manner. Last but not least, how about teaching someone the useful information from the article? Let me know when you are ready to learn new memory techniques together again…
Tip 10: Try a multisensory approach to learning for better results.
P.S. I often use these techniques while working with neurodiverse learners as a dyslexia/specific learning difficulties tutor. They do work really well.
Bibliography and Credits
Horsley, K. (2021). Unlimited Memory: How to Use Advanced Learning Strategies to Learn Faster, Remember More, and Be More Productive. TKC Publishing.
White, R. (2013). Memory Improvement: How To Improve Your Memory In Just 30 Days. Laurenzana Press.
Brown, P. C., Roediger, H. L, McDaniel, M.A. (2014). Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. Harvard University Press.
Jensen, E. P., McConchie, L. (2020). Brain-Based Learning: Teaching the Way Students Really Learn. 3rd Ed. Corwin.
Memory Techniques – Remember More, Memorise Less (And Be Like Sherlock!) (2023); available: https://www.studysmarter.co.uk/magazine/memory-techniques/ [accessed: 3 Sept 2023]
Em, D. (2023). 45+ Hilarious Brain Jokes to Make You Laugh, available: https://humorliving.com/brain-jokes/ [accessed: 3 Sept 2023]
The Johns Hopkins Medicine (2023); available: www.hopkinsmedicine.org [accessed: 4 Sept 2023]
Ward, J. (2019). The Student's Guide to Cognitive Neuroscience. Routledge.
Images © Christopher Walker, IH Journal Editor
Anna Machura is a highly experienced and passionate English language teacher, teacher trainer, therapist, dyslexia tutor and course creator. Based on her research in neuroscience and insightful specialist knowledge, she has created an innovative method – Teaching with Therapeutic Techniques. Anna writes poems, rhyming stories for children, and articles. Her interests include: neurolinguistics, cognitive behavioural science, quantum physics, and Greek philosophy. You can find her teaching at UCC (University College Cork), Ireland.