Rachel Hawkes


Developing memory skills in language learning

The ability to retain and recall new words (with increasing speed) is central to language learning and, alongside an ability to pronounce the foreign language well and the ability to put together words and structures into new sentences, it is one of the three essential skills we focus on from Y7.

But memory skills have significance at whole school level too; students need to develop their ability toretain and recall information in all subjects, not just languages, and if languages are where students develop these very important skills, and this is made apparent to them, their parents, other staff, SMT,etc.. then this is a very powerful argument in support of language learning that is not in the least contentious. In all the years in which we have promoted language learning in our school as the only subject that explicitlydevelops memory skills, there has not been a single word of objection. In fact, the opposite has been the case; the MFL department has been asked to input into assemblies at revision times, to parents' evenings and to develop a memory session for the whole school learning to learn programme.

By including explicit work on memory within our teaching, we can not only enable students to get better at languages, we can also flag up a unique selling point (one of several USPs of language learning! See the presentations and training page for more on this) for our subject within the curriculum.

On this page I've included some explanatory documents summarising aspects of the way we develop memory skills in language lessons as well as lesson resources that are integrated within various Schemes of Work.

Supporting documents
Memory Matters
This is a 5-min audio introduction to a conference presentation on memory.
Booklet for parents
This booklet was created when I first spoke to Y6 parents on a new intake day a few years ago. It has since been put up onto our school website and is now something I flag up at the Parents into Spanish evening. It is also mentioned at Y7 and Y8 Parents Liaison Group meetings.
Memory assembly
This assembly was first given to Y9 students in the time leading up to SATs. It sets the tone for their revision and is not langauge specific, although the fact that the assembly is delivered by a languages teacher strengthens the message (subliminally!) that language learning improves memory.
I include here some audio from a conference that explains the assembly idea and involvement of parents more fully: IOW Conference 2007 Parents & Assembly.
SOTB (Some of the best...)
This sheet is a list of some of the best memory strategies that work for me
Explanations of the memory approaches we use: Introduction to memory essentials, a memory lesson, VAK and memory, memory and homework, and collective memory.

The following are examples of lessons, lesson activities and teaching strategies to include in teaching that is focused on developing memory skills. Many of these are tried and trusted methods that are part of every language teacher's repertoire, whilst others may be newer ideas for considering.

1) VAK strategies
These slides give examples of ideas for developing memory skills through teaching strategies and activities that focus on visual, auditory and kinaesthetic techniques (or a combination of these, as layering up the strategies within one activity will obviously meet the learning style preferences of more learners simultaneously and strengthen the effectiveness of the activity). I have included here some audio from a conference presentation that explains some of the ideas more fully.
Memory Matters - VAK strategies explained
2) Yr 7 Memory lessons
These memory lessons were written by Morag Walker for inclusion in our Y7 Scheme of Work. They were adapted recently for our Y7 because of other revisions to the SOW, so I include the original versions here, which could be adapted by any school to fit with their own SOW. Memory Lesson 1 (Learning individual words)
Lesson 1 Vocabulary, Lesson 1 Homework Sheet
Memory Lesson 2 (Learning whole sentences - Part 1)
Lesson 2 Homework Sheet, Lesson 2 Hotseating Sheet
Lesson 2 Instructions for teachers
Memory Lesson 3 (Learning whole sentences - Part 2)
Lesson 3 Homework Sheet, Lesson 3 Comments Sheet
Memory Lesson 4 (Learning for an assessment - Part 1)
Lesson 4 Comments Sheet, Lesson 4 Text to Translate
Memory Lesson 5 (Learning for an assessment - Part 2)
Lesson 5 (Juan text in English)
Improving your memory - teacher notes
Hotseating instructions
3) Generic Memory Lesson
This is a lesson to insert at any point for any class that you think would benefit from a new or renewed focus on memory skills. After the run through some essentials, the main activity of the lesson is on trialling 3 different strategies for learning vocabulary and evaluating them. An important starting point for students is the activity where they assess how well they already know the individual words on their learning list. The ability to 'know what you know and how well you know it' is sometimes overlooked but it is an important precursor to developing memory skills. >Generic Memory Lesson
Vocabulary Knowledge Scale (a way for students to practise recognising how well they know different words)
Further example of a simple memory lesson
4) Yr 8 Everlasting session
This is a session that is delivered as part of our whole school's learning to learn programme. Everlasting includes:
Effectively using memory skills
Developing learning styles
Revising (well)
Transferring skills
Developing personal study skills

Everlasting Skills Session
5) Collective Memory
Collective memory is a thinking skills strategy that involves students working in groups, one at a time given a few seconds only to see a given visual stimulus before returning to the group to try to reconstruct what has been seen. It is an excellent strategy for highlighting the importance of noticing, pattern-finding and working memory in language learning, and if the stimulus is well-chosen, it can also lead to new cultural or grammatical knowledge. For example, our Y7 map of Spain stimulus leads to TL discussion about whether there are bears, camels or elephants in Spain - students are convinced that there are none of these initially! Our Y8 German collective memory lesson is the way that learners discover there are 3 genders or words for 'the'. There is also here an example of a listening collective memory task that I wrote for French several years ago - this worked particularly well for developing auditory memory strategies e.g. repeating the words over and over in your end untill the meaning becomes clear. Collective Memory Map of Spain
Collective Memory School Timetable (Spanish) and stimulus
Collective Memory Food and Drink (Spanish) and stimulus
Collective Memory Olympics (Spanish)

Collective Memory German Genders (Leigh McClelland)
Collective Memory Amandine Listening (French)

Collective Memory Recording Sheet (A3)

KS3 Guidance on Collective Memory (pdf)

Audio from conference presentation explaining Collective Memory

6) High Frequency Words
Part of our strategy for improving memory skills has involved re-defining the number and scope of the words we want students to learn. A focus on high-frequency words has been really helpful in making explicit to students the words that can be used across different topics and those which you simply cannot do without. From various lists of high-frequency words available online we compiled KS3 French, German and Spanish Core Language sheets, which we encourage students (and parents!) to use at home by displaying prominently and revisiting regularly. KS3 Core French Sheet
KS3 Core German Sheet
KS3 Core Spanish Sheet
Core Spanish - Y7, Y8, Y9

100 Most Common Words - any language
Spanish High Frequency Words
German High Frequency Words (Wendy Adeniji)
French High Frequency Words

French, German, Spanish - top 100 words

(Juliet Park)
German - top 1000 words (Leigh McClelland)
7) Cognates
As long as students are secure with sound-spelling relationships in the target language, cognates are an excellent way for learners to increase their active vocabulary. There are cognate activities within our Y7 SOW and on the phonics page but here is a list of useful cognates that teachers could use when planning activities. Spanish Cognates
8) Other memory resources
There are a lot of tasks and activities integrated within our Schemes of Work and these materials are on the relevant resources pages of this website. Here I have put any additional examples of activities that are not elsewhere on the site. German Memory Game
Spanish Memory Game
Spanish Level 5 Speaking Holidays
Thinking through Vocabulary
(adapted from an idea from Vincent Everett)
Post-it notes (instructions by Morag Walker)
Useful Mnemonics for MFL (by Nick Brown)

Memory Links

Further links to memory and learning styles information and activities that I have found useful in developing this work over the last few years.