Anxiety, Sensory Integration and Working Memory

Mastering Memory: A Glimpse into Working Memory and Tips for Success

Mastering Memory: A Glimpse into Working Memory and Tips for Success

By Nisi Cohen, Speech & Language Therapist at Bellavista School

Did you remember to phone the dentist this morning? Did you remember to feed the dogs, defrost dinner, make that overdue payment, and reply to all those emails? Ah, the infamous daily ‘to-do’ list. However, it is not only our daily chores that challenge our brain’s memory capacity, but we also need to use our memory function to perform almost any activity. Memory refers to how information is processed, stored, and retrieved. There are different types, including long-term, short-term, working, auditory, and visual memory. 

Children use working memory all the time to learn. It’s part of a group of cognitive skills referred to as executive functioning and it plays an important role in reading, language comprehension, spelling, following instructions, vocabulary development and note-taking. Working memory is what is needed to hold on to and manipulate information; it helps us work with information without losing track of what we’re doing. Auditory memory is the ability to process words, sentences, ideas or instructions which are presented orally. These two often work synergistically.  

Working memory isn’t just for short-term use, it also helps the brain organise new information for long-term storage. When children have trouble with working memory, their brains may store information in a jumbled way. Anxiety and poor focus can have a negative impact on working memory and information storage. 

Working memory difficulties may present as poor academic progress, struggling to follow instructions, or appearing disorganised. In other instances, students can’t keep their place when copying from the board, may have a short attention span and are distractible, and often don’t complete activities. If you’re a caregiver, parent, or an educator, you can help your child or student improve working memory by building some strategies into their everyday life:

Auditory Memory Tips:

  • Chunking – grouping items from long lists e.g., recalling a cellphone number in three parts
  • Verbal rehearsal – repeating items aloud or quietly, repeatedly 
  • Relational or semantic grouping – making the information more meaningful through imagery, mnemonics or making silly sentences 
  • Visualisation – drawing or picturing something in one’s head 
  • Graphic organisers, mind maps and checklists

Lifestyle Tips for a Quick Memory Boost:

  • Exercise wakes up the brain and important chemicals for focus are released.
  • Diets rich in a variety of whole foods, especially foods rich in colour (for flavonoids) and omega 3 fats (the best brain food).
  • Probiotics: gut health affects brain function. Gut bacteria synthesise vitamins, regulate the immune system, and regulate brain chemicals needed for memory. 
  • Rosemary and peppermint essential oils can increase acetylcholine for focus and memory.  
  • Deep Breathing and meditation calms one down and gets the body ready for focusing and learning. 

You can also practice working memory skills with:

  • Chaining games e.g. “I went to the market, and I bought a…”. Or “I went on safari, and I saw a…”. You take it in turns to add a piece of information to a list and each turn you must recall the list in full. 
  • Remembering parts of a story. When you are reading with your child before you turn the page you can ask specific questions about the page you have just read. What were the children’s names? Where did they travel to? What did they find there? This also helps the child learn how to extract key pieces of information.
  • Recall of a sequence. List items and see if the child can remember them. Start at an easy level, for example, two items and then gradually increase these. You could extend this, and when you go shopping ask the child to remember a few items that you need e.g., toothpaste, apples and bread. As you walk around the shops, they must remember and collect the items.
  • Treasure hunt. Try giving the child instructions to find a hidden object, e.g., a chocolate or a favourite toy: “Go to the kitchen door, take four steps forward, two steps sideways and look behind the cat’s bowl”. 
  • Drawing to instruction. You could encourage the child to draw a picture with strict instructions to follow. You could describe something like an animal, or a treasure map – whatever the child is interested in. You can always draw the outline and just get the child to add specific details. 

Sign up for the Bellavista SHARE 2022 Online Conference. Teaching our children to be critical, independent thinkers is an essential component of educating for the future. Cognitive education is key to securing a better future for our youth. Join the Bellavista SHARE team as they explore the power of cognitive education with international and local experts from May to June 2022. The conference will run for five consecutive weeks, beginning on Wednesday 11 May 2022, and ending on Wednesday 8 June 2022. Each week a 1-hour live webinar will be held with a specific expert exploring their topic of interest.

Attendees can book for the full line-up, or individual webinars. Visit: 


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Holmes, J., Guy, J., Kievit, R. A., Bryant, A., Mareva, S., CALM Team, & Gathercole, S. E. (2021). Cognitive dimensions of learning in children with problems in attention, learning, and memory. Journal of Educational Psychology, 113(7). 

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Nunley, K. (2003). A Student’s Brain: The Parent/ Teacher Manual. Corwin Press

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