Learning to Build a Strong Memory - The Power of Images

Darren Michalczuk

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The ability to remember is important to a student’s success in school. Having a strong memory will pave the way for knowledge, confidence and understanding in the classroom. A student that can’t remember the names countries, provinces or cities on a map will struggle with geography. Not knowing the times tables will hold a student back in math. A student that can’t remember the spelling or definition of words will have trouble comprehending text or writing creative stories in language. Although there are other important skills that follow, there is no doubt that a strong memory is crucial.

People who have a strong memory often share common skills. One of these skills is the ability to see things in pictures. The name Angela might be visualized as an angel. The word parallel might be imagined being a set of railroad tracks. The concept of education may be visualized as an apple.

To show that images rather than abstract symbols (for example letters or numbers) are remembered more readily, here is a perfect example. Anyone who has heard the story “The Three Bears” knows who ate the porridge. On the other hand, if you ask someone what symbol is above the number seven key on a computer keyboard, most people won’t remember. What is peculiar about this is most people haven’t heard the story in years yet they use a computer on a daily or weekly basis.

By turning a word or concept into an image, we instantly make it easier to remember. Although this seems easy, this is a very specific skill which can be refined and defined with practice and understanding. There are a few simple guidelines to follow.

Images should be things you can see or touch. Imagining oxygen as being air or wind will not be as effective as an oxygen tank or a windmill. Things are more easily remembered when it triggers our senses. For the word “retrieve” using a Labrador retriever that we can clearly see, feel and even touch in our mind’s eye will be a strong memory. Many of us have vivid memories of a childhood toy or a family pet for this reason.

When choosing an image to represent a word or concept, a variety of techniques can be used. You can use a symbol such as a heart to represent “affection” or a sword to represent “courage”. You can use an image that sounds similar to the word such as a hippo and a noose to represent “hypotenuse” or a man and a tuba to represent “Manitoba”. Some people trust their mind and use the first image that comes to mind such as a kite and a key to represent “electricity” or a St. Bernard to represent “Beethoven”.

Some images should be avoided. An image should be unique and not get confused with other images. People shouldn’t be used as it is easy to mix up people. This is one of the reasons why it is often hard to remember a person’s name when we meet them after years of not seeing them. Using a brand name is tricky as often it is tough to differentiate between similar products. For example using an Accent car (by Honda) to represent the word “accent” allows for the possibility of thinking of other similar mid-sized cars in its place such as a Toyota Tercel or a Ford Escort.

Building a strong mind doesn’t happen by accident. It is very specific, but it can be done. Having taught some of the skills to elementary students, I have seen some amazing results. A grade four student memorized the first fifty elements of the periodic table in less than 30 minutes. A grade five student memorized the Academy Award winning movies from 1928 to 2000 in less than an hour. Ten year olds were able to memorize a list of 100 random objects (in mixed order) in less than 5 minutes and were able to list them in the correct order and note numbers that were skipped.

There are more skills that can be learned to improve memory. If you have never been taught how to use mnemonic devices (memory techniques), hopefully this will introduce you to the possibilities.

Darren Michalczuk is the founder of the Brick School. He is an experienced classroom teacher who has developed many programs and resources for math, language and music. The Brick School offers quality educational posters, programs and worksheets online for elementary language arts, math and music. Materials are designed to promote effective learning strategies in an easy to understand, straight-forward format. They offer both practical solutions to learning problems and leading edge technology and techniques. It reaches both struggling students and those who need extra challenges in class. With the latest software and leading edge learning strategies, our materials are paving the way for learning. User-friendly porgrams give students instant feedback while they practice important basic skills. Lessons and study guides also include proven learning strategies and memories techniques. Please visit our website. http://brickschool.ca


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