Most people use a variety of strategies automatically when they are trying to memorize something. For instance, if they have just been introduced to someone and they need to remember that person’s name, they may try to associate it with another word or someone else’s name.
Or, they may simply jot it down on a piece of paper. If it’s a telephone number they have to memorize, they may chunk the numbers in groups of two’s or three’s to try to remember or simply say the numbers out loud over and over several times.
Similarly, if someone is trying to remember something and the information is just not being recalled, they may try to think of some connection or link. Often, we will say a memory is right on “the tip of our tongue” — which of course it is not! Often, in those types of instances we don’t remember until we are no longer thinking about it. Then, all of a sudden the information will simply “pop up” in our minds.
One way or the other, our brains have to process new and previously learned information. And, no matter how much we study brain function and memory itself — immediate recall, short-term memory storage and long-term memory retrieval — the whole process is still a mystery. However, mystery or not, unless individuals have had an irreversible brain injury or severe dementia, everyone can benefit from memory strategies.
As I discussed in an earlier textbook I wrote, there are at least four types of memory strategies: VERBAL, VISUAL SPATIAL, VISUAL SEQUENTIAL and KINESTHETIC.
Verbal strategies are fairly straightforward — whether speaking or listening. They involve repetition and verbal rehearsal whether silently or aloud. Verbal strategies can also involve dictation or the use of some type of tape-recording device.
Visual spatial strategies can involve “whole” diagrams, pictures, maps, flowcharts and bubble drawings, as well as visual association and highlighting. In other words, spatial strategies are holistic or complete. They show all sorts of information at one glance.
Visual sequential strategies are very different to visual spatial strategies. For instance, like verbal strategies, visual sequential processing is done in an ordered sequence, one item or bit of information at a time. For example, while we speak in sentences and we read outloud in a specific order, we also “see” what we are reading in a sequence as well. So, if people prefer visual sequential strategies, they might use such memory strategies as underlining, point-form lists, sequential diagrams and post-it notes.
Kinesthetic or muscle memory strategies mainly involve doing something physically such as performance repetition. Think about learning a new dance routine or learning to play an instrument, ride a bike or drive a car. People do the routine or task over and over until they can do it automatically, without thinking. Of course, other strategies are necessary as well because we need to learn a sequence of skills or information, such as the rules of the road when learning to drive.
Let’s say students or staff have to do a book report. They don’t see the whole book at once so they have to patiently read it in the sequence it has been presented. But, as they read, they might want to use a tape-recorder to talk about main ideas, or a highlighter or pencil to underline, to identify the same important points. If they don’t own the book, they might have to make a point-form list or use post-it notes for the main ideas in each chapter. However, once they are finished reading, as part of pre-planning a report, they could make either a flowchart or a sequential diagram, whichever they prefer. That is how the various memory strategies can be used in practical everyday and school situations.
Memory strategies are a complex topic. For readers who want to dig deeper, here are some links to major sources for memory strategies. While they are all reputable sources, I am not promoting any particular method or site. So please use them at your discretion.
(1) Regents Centre, Georgia State
(5) LD Online