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by Erica Fischer on Oct 12, 2015

Help Students Make it Stick! Strategies to Support Long-Term Memory

Class Activities by Jose Kevo, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  Jose Kevo 

Welcome back to #langchat! Last week, “long-time and new #langchat friends” (@KrisClimer) alike tuned in for a chat on promoting long-term memory for language learners. Langchatters brainstormed strategies and tasks that make language more memorable. They also considered the role that assessment practices can play in fostering long-term memory. Lastly, participants discussed how instructors can encourage language students to take responsibility for their long-term memory. In case you missed a beat or your memory is a bit fuzzy, your #langchat summary is here!

Thank you to everyone who participated in last week’s conversation. We also extend a warm thanks to Thursday’s moderators: Colleen (@CoLeeSensei), Kris (@KrisClimer), and Cristy (@msfrenchteach).

Question 1: What input strategies foster long-term memory in language learning?

In terms of input strategies, Langchatters discussed the role of numerous factors: repetition, mnemonic devices, visuals, movement, music, and emotions, just to name a few!

  • Repetition… Repetition… Repetition! @SraStilson asked, “Is it possible to overemphasize repetition?” Langchatters replied with an overwhelming NO. @kballestrini encouraged “continuous exposure to words, structures, and themes… over… and over…. and over…. and over… and over…” @SoyBolingual agreed that content should be presented “[over] and over,” adding that this should occur “in varying contexts too.” @Sralandes shared her novel way of bringing old material back: “I use [Throwback Thursday] as a means to review.” @KrisClimer replied, “What a GREAT IDEA! So modern, connected, hip, [and] relevant!”
  • Mnemonics: Others share mnemonics with students and have them work together to create some of their own. @WHS_French_ said, “I teach my kids mnemonics that I learned in high school and they LOVE THAT!” @DonnaGaul commented, “[Mnemonics] are great,” adding that instructors could “[encourage] kids to create their own and share.” @profelopez716 even introduces a bit of competition: “[Sometimes] I add a competition as to which group can come up with the most creative mnemonic.”
  • Visuals: Others highlighted the benefit of visual associations in promoting memory. @LisaShepard2 wrote, “Adding a visual component–using pictures [or] video to teach [vocabulary,] for [example],” is useful. @JessieOelke added, “This is key in novice [classes]. I rarely [introduce vocabulary without] some visual [component].”
  • Movement: Some participants also recommended movement as a way to get students immersed in content. @VTracy7 wrote in strong favor of “MOVEMENT!” @JessieOelke also advocated for “[the] ‘old’ P in [Total Physical Response],” prompting instructors to “[create] a class action [or] motion for key [vocabulary] words.”
  • Music: Langchatters suggested music as yet another way to make content catchy! @profelopez716 noted the benefit of “[giving students] a context of the word and adding a beat that’s hard to ignore.” @SlocumBeth also uses “songs… [which are] sometimes silly but memorable.” @SenoraLauraCG couldn’t emphasize the value of this resource enough, writing, “I’ll say it once and I’ll say it again. MÚSICA, MÚSICA, MÚSICA!” Eager to incorporate music in your class, but not sure how? Check out the summary of a recent chat on music in the language classroom!
  • Emotions: If you want something to be memorable, participants encouraged making content emotionally engaging. @SoyBolingual wrote that instructors should aim to evoke “[some] type of emotional [or] personal response” from students, such as a “silly inside joke from class.” @sonrisadelcampo also wrote in support of “[input] accompanied [with] laughter and a relaxed setting.” Participants further pointed out that a lighthearted atmosphere works to lower students’ affective filter, making input more likely to be absorbed and stick.

Question 2: What practice and task designs help students build long-term memory?

In terms of tasks, Langchatters favored activities that are personalized, feature recycled content, promote playful engagement, and require retrieval of older material.

  • Personalize Tasks: Langchatters just can’t emphasize personalization enough, and they acknowledged its role in long-term memory. @LisaShepard2 recommended promoting “[personalized] production using [vocabulary and] structures to express personal meaning.” @cadamsf1 commented, “[I] agree completely [that] personalization is the key for most [students].” @SenoraLauraCG also felt that instructors “gotta make it meaningful!” She suggested creating situations where “[students] have to personalize the [target language], share opinions, [express] likes [and] dislikes, [or] tell a story [about] their lives.”
  • Constantly Recycle: Participants just can’t get enough of repetition and recycling. @MlleSulewski promotes “constant recycling, [in which students are called upon to write] using this [vocabulary], speak [with] that [vocabulary], read it, listen to it.” @Marishawkins recommended reading, which naturally “[recycles] so much vocabulary.” @CoLeeSensei uses rubrics, prompting students to be accountable for things past: “I also include ‘brings in past learning’ in my rubrics to remind [students] of what we used before!”
  • Promote Playful Interaction with Material: In the words of @kballestrini, “[Playful] interaction with the material goes a long way; if students have agency and creative control, [there will be] greater personal retention.” As one form of playful interaction, @soccermom2013 mentioned “storytelling, compelling stories, [with] student actors in stories,” adding that this can serve as a form of “recycling with tons of comprehensible input.” As an alternative, @DonnaGaul wrote, “I started using [Kahoot!] this year. [Students] love it and say it really helps.” @profesorM offered some additional suggestions: [games!], categories, [Jeopardy!], bingo.”
  • Have Students Use It… or They Might Lose It: As @KrisClimer noted, “Strong memory [is] built by RETRIEVAL, so NEEDING [something and] USING it across multiple contexts” is key. @CoLeeSensei agreed, writing that memory is supported “when [students] need to know it [or] use it to do what they need to do!” @KrisClimer replied, “‘Use it or lose it’ seems relevant. If it won’t matter next, my task should not require it today.”

Finally, @MlleSulewski reminded instructors to keep things interesting: “Something that is compelling is always memorable. The brain doesn’t pay attention to boring things!”

Question 3: What role do assessment practices play in fostering long-term memory?

If you’re looking to create assessments that support long-term memory, Langchatters advise folding in the old, assessing progress on a regular basis, and shooting for authenticity.

  • Fold in the Old: Langchatters reminded fellow instructors not only to assess recent material. @SraStilson wrote, “Hopefully, all my assessments give even more [repetition and] opportunity to further cement words [or] structures, etc.” Along the same lines, @MlleSulewski encouraged instructors to make “sure assessments require [the] whole of [students’] knowledge. The concepts never go away; they’re folded in.”
  • Assess Progress Regularly: Participants wrote in support of more frequent assessments as opposed to larger summative assessments. @rlgrandis also questioned the implications of referring to assessments as ‘summative’: “I don’t like idea of ‘summative’ assessments. This seems to send [the] message [that students] are done and can stop using those structures.” @SraStilson wrote, “I have moved away from calling them ‘summative’ to simply [calling them] ‘performance assessments.’” @CoLeeSensei has started using more frequent check-in quizzes: “I’m doing way more ‘do we have it?’ pop-quizzes (with time to re-learn) [rather] than ‘[quizzes] for marks’ now!” @mskbordner also likes providing “multiple opportunities [to] demonstrate proficiency!” She urged fellow language teachers to “[let] students try again!” In addition to shifting focus away from grades, @rlgrandis added that “[constant] formative assessment should be used to inform teaching practice” in light of student performance.
  • Make Assessments More Authentic: Participants also mentioned the value of authenticity in assessments. For example, @SrLaBoone said, “I think the more authentic the assessment, the more likely [students will] remember the material in the long term.” @SlocumBeth also recommended “creating assessment rooted in personal, meaningful expression,” adding, “[Students] retain what they consider important.” @DonnaGaul mentioned some possible forms for ‘authentic assessments’: “create a menu, have a fashion show, create a calendar page.” @brookssensei even proposed a possibility outside of the classroom: “Authentic assessment should mean going to the restaurant and seeing [students] order food!”

Question 4: How can we help students take ownership in developing their long-term memory?

Participants noted that it is important for students to take responsibility for their learning and actively work to develop their long-term memory. They suggested ways to guide students on this journey: teaching memorization skills, using real-world situations as a source of inspiration, and supporting student reflection.

  • Teach Memorization Skills: @brookssensei recommended discussing memorization with students: “Teach them how memory works and skills they can use, then let them trial the ones that work for them.” He added, “I did a task where we talked about different [memorization] techniques, used it [with vocabulary] and then [students] reflected and shared.” Similarly, @laprofeloca wrote, “[Let students] brainstorm and experiment [with different] types of memory aides, discuss them [and] learn about them together.”
  • Use Real-World Situations as Inspiration: Some instructors noted that real-world situations can be motivating, prompting students to take a more active role in their long-term learning. @cadamsf1 wrote, “[When students] have a purpose they have ownership.” She added that this purpose could arise when students “help others in real-life situations.” @SrLaBoone agreed, writing, “Yes, a real-world situation will really open their eyes to what they know [and] what they need to re-learn.”
  • Support Reflection: @cadamsf1 acknowledged the importance of student reflection in building ownership: “[Have students] reflect on where and how they improved and they will become owners.” @profelopez716 pointed out that instructors must make time for such reflection: “[Many students] don’t take time to reflect unless we give it to them.” She suggested using choice boards, adding that they allow students to “[choose] which project would best prove what they as individuals have learned.”


Langchatters had lots of tips about how to make language-learning stick with students! Participants thought up strategies and tasks to support long-term memory. They also considered how assessment practices can contribute to this aim and discussed how to encourage language students to take responsibility for their long-term memory. In light of the discussion, @CoLeeSensei spoke for many when she said, “I am responsible for the ‘opportunity [and] environment’ to learn in …and my students for their own learning in it…”

Thank You!

Thank you to everyone who contributed to yet another memorable #langchat! Remember, now you can get some #langchat in your life two days a week, both Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET AND Saturday mornings at 10 a.m. ET!

Due to space limitations, many tweets had to be omitted from this summary. To view the entire conversation, you can access the full transcript on our tweet archive. As @CoLeeSensei reminded participants: “Got a topic to suggest? #langchat gets its ideas from teachers like you! [Yes,] you!” Send us your ideas for future #langchats so that our weekly discussions can become as relevant and inclusive as possible.

Elementary in Spanish
Erica Fischer
Erica is the founder and CEO of Calico Spanish. Her passion for teaching her own children to speak Spanish led her to create Calico Spanish. Our mission is to give all children the opportunity to learn to speak real Spanish for life.

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