Q: I am writing because my daughter is struggling in school. She is not doing poorly – actually she gets mostly Bs on her report cards. However, she studies much, much more than her peers. Sometimes she spends hours studying for a vocabulary quiz. For some reason, only part of what she studies seems to stick. Is there some way I can help her better remember what she studies?
A: Study skills are essential tools for elementary school and beyond. Even adults need memory strategies to remember important details in their personal or work lives. A great way to ensure successful studying is to provide your daughter with a RIP toolbox. RIP stands for Repetition, Imagery, and Patterns. These three strategies can help your daughter better recall the information she is studying:
Repetition and rehearsal of information enhance a process called consolidation, the process by which memories are moved from temporary storage in the hippocampus (a small structure within the brain) to more permanent storage in the cortex (the outer layer of the brain). Multiple repetitions can be boring – and therefore children might turn their brains off, negating the positive effects of repetition. Therefore, here are some tips for repetition:
- Set the information to music. Singing a song can make the material easier and more fun to recall.
- Develop silly mnemonics to help remember the information. For instance, if you are working on state capitals, for Ohio, sketch a picture of a person saying, “oh, hi, oh Columbus.” This associates the word “Columbus” with the word “Ohio.
- Use flashcards. Creating the flashcards provides another opportunity for repetition and then flipping through them links the information to a motor skill.
Creating or studying images can help your daughter’s brain better store the information. Some types of images can even include motor images which translate the information into muscle memory. Here are some tips for study strategies that include imagery:
- Use graphic organizers. Graphic organizers can use key words, pictures, or icons. These mental images can help arrange the information in a coherent and streamlined manner.
- Develop motor images. Using air writing or imagining seeing letters can be a powerful memory tool for students learning to read. For some, these visual or motor images are easier to recall then the simple words on the page.
Our brains seek meaning through patterns. As we receive new information, we need a system to organize it – and patterns are an excellent resource for this.
- Utilize rhymes. Because rhymes rely on rhythms, they have built in patterns. Using this rhythm to integrate important information will help the material stick in your daughter’s brain.
- Invent mnemonics. Mnemonics, or a short sequence of letters or words that help your child remember the information can be very helpful. For instance, if your child is learning the order of the planets in the social system (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto), she could use the sentence: My Very Excellent Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas.
Your daughter might simply need to understand the way memory works in order to develop more efficient study habits. Just remember to praise her effort and persistence – even a hug and smile can do wonders for her morale.