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5 Old School Remedies For A Positive Start To The Year

Working Memory

What is it?

brain cog

Well, a simple explanation is it’s the place where active ideas or memories are held briefly in the mind where they can be manipulated.

For Example-  Think about a dog, whatever kind of dog you want.  Rotate it 360 degrees. Now make it purple and blue.  This is active mental manipulation, and it is taking place in your working memory. You pulled up what a dog looks like and are twisting and manipulating it.

One of the interesting things about working memory is the amount of time information stays there.  It’s only a few seconds.  Think about remembering a phone number, you need to keep repeating it over and over again every few seconds.  Then someone speaks to you or you stop saying the numbers and what happens?  Yep, it goes away.

I believe this is where some of our educational practices in schools are letting us down.

Activities that were done in the classroom in the past, are no longer part of the modern classroom.  Some of these activities actually helped stimulate the parts of the brain needed to hold and manipulate information.  Of course, this is only my own observation and is not backed by any scientific research (that I know of).  I am also of the belief that the brain is just like any muscle, if you exercise it, it gets stronger.

Think about it for a second “In the olden days” (this is the time my son describes as when I went to school, but I actually know it was the time my dad was at school).  Anyway, before computers and smartboards were in the classroom, we had to copy work from the blackboard.  If you were not quick enough the teacher would be rubbing information off the board to make more space for the next bit and you then had to try to copy off your neighbour (if they let you).  This was great for the Working Memory and you would try your guts out to remember what was on the board by repeating phrases in your head while writing them down.  We also recited times tables over and over everyday as a class and individually again and again.  Doing so meant we had to hold the previous number in our working memory while manipulating that number and adding to produce the next one (eg. 4 x 4=16, hold 16 in your head, now 4 x5= so take 16 and count on 4- 17, 18 , 19 and the answer is 20).

So coming from an educator who has seen these activities make a difference, I would like to give you my 5 Top Tips for making a difference to working memory.

  1. Dictation – Yep, remember the teacher at school that read a poem or story and the class, who would be hanging on their every word. Students then held words and phrases in their working memory in order to then manipulate and transfer them into written form (ie. Write down what the teacher had said).  Then there is the added skill of trying to add punctuation and formulate sentences and paragraphs.  Having taught in many schools, I can tell you it is rare to find dictation as part of a school day, and if it is, it is not done in the same way as it used to be.

kids look

So, once a week you could use your child’s spelling words to develop a sentence or a paragraph or two (depending on the age of the child).  Try to systematically chunk the words into phrases and get your child to write them down.  This activity also helps with decoding and vocabulary. You will find (if you stick with it) that your child will remember more and more as time goes by.  You may start off with 2 or 3 words at a time and then add more words to keep your child challenged (as needed).

  1. Memory Game– Okay, remember the game “Memory” where you would have 2 pictures of each animal, flower, etc.  You shuffled them and lay them face down in lines of 10 and then you took turns flipping 2 cards over.  The object of the game was to match the pictures on the cards, so if you didn’t get a match all the players need to try to remember where particular cards are located so when their turn came around they could find a match.  Yep, it’s another Cracker for memory.


Here’s another tip, within a tip- If you grab your child’s sight words or spelling words you can cut out cardboard or paper (all the same size) and write the words on the back of the cards (2 cards for each word of course) then play memory with those.


  1. The 40 Second Spelling Technique– If you haven’t already got it, the 40 Second Spelling Technique is actually a clever way to put information into the brain so that it stays there.  Although it’s concentrating on spelling, it is also a great way to remember times tables.

Now, please be kind, it was one of my first ever videos I ever recorded.  It’s not really strengthening working memory, but it is a good strategy to help remember things that may have been missed.  Click link 40 Second Spelling Technique


  1. Category games– This is one for the car on they way to school or on a road trip.  You say the name of a food starting with A, then get your child to repeat your word and then they name an food starting with B.  The next person repeats the food starting with A, B and then they name a food starting with C.

It doesn’t have to be food, just choose a topic that everyone get’s a fair go (eg. animals, toys, countries, colours, etc).


It’s easy and the kiddlywinks really enjoy it.

  1. Video Games– The last tip goes a little against my grain and it’s not really old school, but if I’m being honest video games can help with working memory.  This doesn’t mean every game has the potential to make kids geniuses, but some have actions within the game that means they have to hold sequences in their memory to execute later in the game.


So there are many Apps, etc that can help and I was going to give you a list of them but they improve each month and what is the best thing now is often not the best thing in a months time. I will however tell you of a couple that have stood the test of time:-

  • Lumosity
  • KHARN ACHADEMY is an all round educational program that stimulates working memory (mostly when working in the maths area)

Well, there you have it, some Hints and Tips from an educator rather than a clinician or scientist.  These are just things that I have seen work and I know can help. There are some interventions that can really make a big difference to the way a child learns and reads. Some however are not worth the time or money.

If you would like to know what programs can change your child’s learning life and which programs are just there for show contact us.

Please Enjoy!  By putting them into practice you can get your child’s year started off with a boost.

Mr B

The Mind Master

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