Boost performance and memory retrieval

Memory retrieval is an important factor in boosting pupil performance. Find out how you can help your pupils retrieve the information they need from their long-term memory, when completing tasks, activities and examinations.

Memory retrieval is an important factor in boosting pupil performance.  When you transfer knowledge from the short term memory to the long term memory it helps to make ‘learning stick’, this also frees up the short-term memory for day-to-day learning and experiences, this is essential for pupils progressing through a school day. However, at some point pupils will need to retrieve the information from the long-term memory for use when completing tasks, activities and examinations. 

Research suggests there are many ways of retrieving information, including recall, recollection, recognition and relearning using retrieval cues.  The cues initiate a prompt or clue such as a date, picture or word to trigger the retrieval of the long-term memory.  The kind of retrieval cues that are accessible can also influence how information is retrieved. 

  • Recall – this approach does not involve the use of cues or triggers to access the information. An example of recall would be answering a basic exam style question, often a one mark question that starts with name, state or give.
  • Recollection of information – when the memory is rebuilt using clues, narratives either spoken or written and incomplete memories. An example would be answering an essay style examination or test question first by remembering snippets of information and then by adding to it by using the incomplete or partial memories.  
  • Recognition - the identification of information after recognising it again. An example would be answering a multiple-choice question that requires the pupil to recognise the correct answer out of a selection of available answers.
  • Relearning - the relearning of information that has been previously learned, maybe in a previous lesson or even during the term before. Relearning makes it easier to remember and enhances the ability to retrieve the information in the future. It can also improve the strength of memories which is very beneficial.

Techniques to help retrieve information from the long-term memory

The ‘Why?’ question: We are all aware that asking the ‘Why?’ question should be an integral part of lessons and thereafter revision activities, but why is it so important?  When pupils are prompted to explain things, it helps them to create a web of knowledge that enhances their memory of it at the time and in the future.

Weekly review: Research suggests that a weekly review of learning uses the power of spacing to help memory retention. If a topic has not been fully transferred into the pupil’s long-term memory for accurate recall, this can potentially create problems later on. Therefore, conducting a quick weekly review, which would not take much time, could have a big impact on a pupil’s long term memory recall.

Asking the pupils to represent the learning of the lesson, or lessons in a week, by producing a mind/concept map or alternatively a flow diagram, means not only will they be able to reuse and revisit regularly, but the activity of reassembling information and rebuilding meaning is challenging pupils to think hard about the main concept which therefore proves to be memorable.

Repeating topics: Revision theories inform us that the repeating of topics at least three times is essential to remember facts/concepts long term and that the duration between the repetitions influences how well the information is remembered.  According to research theories dating back to 1885, the bigger the gaps, or the spacing between repeating topics, and information being retrieved from the long-term memory, the stronger our capacity to remember and retrieve that information in the future.

What can help?

Here’s four ways in which you can implement this in your teaching:

Knowledge organisers: Knowledge organisers contain sets of key facts or essential information on a topic, including visual images, which pupils need to know, and be able to recall (to demonstrate their understanding of the topic).  For these to be successful, they should be made available at the start of each new  topic to help guide pupils what they are learning and then used regularly when revisiting the knowledge to be learned.  Food - a fact of life Knowledge organisers can be found here: 5-7 Years, 7-11 Years and 11-14 Years. Knowledge organisers for 14-16 Years will be available shortly.

Flash cards: Flash cards are effective memory reinforcement tools, they aid in quickly memorising facts, vocabulary, dates, and much more. It is important not to put too much information on a flashcard, as this will make them difficult to read, understand, and memorise. Studies show that the most effective way to use flashcards is to make both sides of the card a potential starting point. This means that instead of having one side of a card holding a question and the other the answer, both sides of the card provide unique information that then requires discussion, the addition of essential facts and knowledge, or application of the information

Stories: Introducing stories about a dish/recipe, for example a lasagne, which could have been made in the previous practical lesson, is a useful way to recollect information from the memory, build on knowledge and extend understanding.  A useful starting point for a discussion task or written exercise would be the use of a visual image to prompt as well as questions on the ‘How?’, ‘Why?’ and ‘What?’.

Being visual: The use of visual aids, such wall displays, can help trigger the recollection of information. Displaying pictures of equipment with their names, key terms/vocabulary, and meanings encourages discussion, familiarity and recognition.

For more information about memory retrieval, why not watch Jacqui’s presentation from the FFL National food and nutrition education conference 2020 here?

FFL has a wide range of resources that can be used for memory retrieval. To find out more, watch Frances’ presentation from the London conference here.


Resources to support memory retrieval

A selection of FFL resources to support memory retrieval.

Food photo cards

A set of food photo cards.

Kitchen equipment cards

A set of cards showing photographs of kitchen equipment.

Where food comes from cards

A set of cards exploring where food comes from.

7 - 11 YR
Red Tractor worksheet

A worksheet about the Red Tractor assurance scheme for food.

7 - 11 YR
Down on the farm worksheet

A worksheet to capture what different animals would be on a farm.

Burger safety

A worksheet to support the Gourmet Burger Builder interactive resource.

Thinking pot questions information sheet

Thinking pot questions (following Blooms Taxonomy) for a pizza recipe.

11 - 14 YR
Dental health circle map

A worksheet looking at dental health.

11 - 14 YR
Blank cooker safety practical knowledge triangle

A worksheet looking at cooker safety.

14 - 16 YR
Knife recognition matching cards

Cards looking at knives.

14 - 16 YR
Heat transfer (exchange) worksheet

A worksheet looking at heat transfer.

14 - 16 YR
Using equipment safely worksheet

A worksheet looking at using equipment safely.

14 - 16 YR
What went wrong worksheet

A worksheet looking at problem solving when cooking.

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