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Classroom Games to Improve Students’ Memory

Janelle Cox

Do you have students who are forgetful, need constant reminders, or who struggle with multistep directions? Oftentimes the cause of this is because of their working memory. Studies indicate that a child’s “Working memory,” or their “Short-term” memory, may be the reasoning for these issues. Children with strong short-term memories tend to stay focused and on task, follow step-by-step directions, and apply their prior knowledge to new situations.

As children grow, their working memory increases, so if they are struggling to remember information now, that can change in the future. However, there are other factors that can affect students’ memories, such as simply being distracted or trying to remember too much information.  Stress can impact their memory as well. Luckily, there is something that we as teachers can do to help. Here are a few classroom games and suggestions.

Classroom Games

Here are a few working memory classroom games that only take about 5-10 minutes to play. 

Card Recall

This partner game has students recalling what they have just seen. To play, students will select three cards from the pile. These cards can be anything from spelling or vocabulary words to letters, numbers or pictures. One student takes three cards from the pile and counts to ten as they show the cards to their partner. Then, the student asks their partner what were the three things that they saw on the cards. If they get them right, then they get to keep all three cards. If they get them wrong, then the cards go back into the pile. The person with the most cards at the end of the game wins. As students get good at this game, challenge them to take four cards, or even five, and try to recall what is on them.

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Mix Them Up

For this game you can use the same cards that were used in card recall, or you can make new ones. Pair students up, and one person takes five cards from the stack and shows them to their partner to memorize. Then, the student takes the cards and mixes them up and places only four of the cards face up, leaving one of the cards face down. Their partner’s job is to guess which card is missing from the five cards that they memorized. To make it even more challenging, students can leave out more cards for their partner to guess.

I’m Going on a Trip

This classic recall game has been played for decades, but has remained popular because of its effectiveness. To play, students get into a group of two or more. To start, the first person says, “I’m going on a trip and bringing____.” They would fill in the blank with any item that they can think of. Then the next person would repeat their sentence and add what they are bringing. For example, it might look like this: “I’m going on a trip and I’m bringing my suitcase and my sunglasses.” Students keep repeating the list and adding to it. When the list gets too long to remember, then students can change the list to a new place where they are going, like the beach or to school. To challenge students even further, you can have them list items in alphabetical order. For example, “I’m going on a trip to the beach and I’m bringing an apple, my beach bag, and my camera.”

Memory Training

Is it possible that students can train their brain to enhance their working memory? According to research, yes, it is possible. One study in Japan showed that a group of 8-year-old students increased their IQ scores by just memory training for about ten minutes a day for two months. By conducting just simple ten minute exercises with your students, for a selected amount of time, can indeed help their working memory.


Help your students improve their recall by trying a few of these working memory strategy boosters.

Number Directions

When you ask a student to follow a series of directions number them. For instance, begin by saying “I need you to do three things …” Then go on to say, “Number one is to take out your textbook, number two is to open to page 35, and number three is to read the first paragraph.”

Make Connections

Find ways to connect information. By doing this, it will help students learn new material. For example, if students are learning their multiplication skills, show them that 3 x 2 = 6 and 3 + 3 = 6. Seeing these connections will help them with their working memory.

Teach Students to Visualize

Encourage students to use their visualization skills. For example, let’s say that students are learning about Rosa Parks. Have them close their eyes and visualize Rosa Parks sitting on the school bus. Tell them to come up with a picture of what they think that looks like in their head. Then have them draw the picture that they came up with on paper. Once students get used to visualizing, they will be able to use their words to describe what they are imagining instead of drawing you a picture.

Do your students have any issues with their memory? What kinds of strategies and games to incorporate in your classroom? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below, we would love to hear what you have to say.

Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds a Master's of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is also the Elementary Education Expert for, as well as a contributing writer to and TeachHUB Magazine. You can follow her at Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, or on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators.

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