How to ask questions to ensure long-lasting memories


How to ask questions to ensure long-lasting memories

10.10.2018 • 3 minutes

How to ask questions to ensure long-lasting memories

When a teacher asks a student a question in class, they are providing that student with a retrieval cue, which is any information that triggers the process of memory retrieval. Think of names, smells, sounds, etc. that cause you to remember or try to remember a certain piece of information stored in your long-term memory.

Today, we’ll have a look at how these cues can be used for learning by using the concepts of cued recall and free recall.

Cued recall refers to any specific cue provided to students with the intention of eliciting a specific memory. Examples include highlighted words in a handbook, the first letter of a word to be remembered, or a teacher’s question with an accurate answer, such as “What is the capital of the USA?”.

Free recall is a similar exercise, but which requires a far less specific cue, like “List as many capital cities as you can”, or asking for the central topics of a book. Because these free recall questions are vague, they are more challenging for students and require more cognitive effort. They must organise their thoughts as they retrieve the information, while thinking of new retrieval cues themselves.

Free recall can yield great results: as a way of retrieving memories, it allows students to make memories that last longer and are easier to retrieve, because:

  • Prior memories are being recalled in a more organised way, thanks to the cognitive effort the students have to make.
  • Instead of relying on external cues (i.e. a question form the teacher), students have to create other retrieval cues for those memories.

A free recall exercise should conclude with feedback from the teacher detailing how accurate and complete the students’ retrieval of information was. Without feedback, they might leave class with incomplete - or worse, inaccurate - memories.

How to use retrieval cues in class

  • Consider the context in which the information will have to be retrieved later on. This will help you design retrieval cues that will allow the students to remember the relevant information more easily in the appropriate setting.
  • Help students organise information by linking it to prior memories. These connections will help strengthen their memory of that information.
  • Provide time for them to retrieve the information, because memory retrieval is a struggle, and it requires time to be effective.
  • Stress the importance and relevance of what they are learning. Making sure students know why they should remember something is the best way to ensure that they will.

Content drawn from “_The Science of Learning — What Every Teacher Should Know_”, EdX: https://www.edx.org


Gauthier Lebbe, Content Editor @Wooclap

Gauthier Lebbe

Content Editor @Wooclap. I love to write, learn, write about learning, and learn about writing. And hit readers with puns they don't see coming. You know, sucker puns.

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