Supporting Pupils with Memory Difficulties



The Memory Process:

Acquisition – sometimes called input (how you take information in e.g. paying attention, senses)

Retention – sometimes called storage or processing (what you do with the information to remember it)

Retrieval – sometimes called output or recall (this involves recalling information e.g. an event or sequence of events)

We receive information through sensory receptors – primarily our eyes and ears. Some information can be lost from not attending while other information that is attended to, moves into our working memory. 


Working Memory (Short Term)

On average 3 children in every class will have difficulties with working memory and this impacts on their progress in learning, particularly in reading and maths.

Once information has been lost from working memory it is gone for good. The only possible way forward is to start again the process of entering information into working memory.  Some situations that often lead to the loss of information from working memory are:

  •          Overload, where the amount of information exceeds the memory capacity
  •          Distraction, an unrelated thought or interruption is sufficient to cause memory loss
  •          Engaging in a demanding task, activities that require difficult mental processing reduces the amount of space in working memory and can result in the loss of other information

Sometimes children’s Visual Working Memory (what they see) can be much better than their Verbal Working memory (what they hear).


Long Term Memory

Long term memory is the permanent storehouse of information.

There are several sub-types of long term memory.


What Might I See If My Child Has Poor Working Memory?

  •          Your child might forget what you’ve just asked them to do – recalling instructions is a  difficulty at home and school.
  •          Problems organising themselves and their school needs in general.
  •          Easily distracted or often lapsing into day-dreaming.
  •          Problems learning by heart, e.g. times tables, alphabet, days of the week.
  •          Problems ‘sounding out’ words, remembering spellings, slow writing.
  •          Difficulty understanding what they read or hear.
  •          Vague about time, the school timetable, what day it is, what to do next.
  •          Sometimes this can lead to frustration, or changes in motivation and self-esteem.

How can I help at home?

Everyone finds different strategies helpful for remembering information therefore a range of strategies need to be explored to find those that best suit your child. Make sure your child is active in choosing which strategies they find the most useful.

  •          Be understanding and patient.
  •          Give one instruction at a time and gradually increase this.
  •          Prepare for school the night before.
  •          Organise and name personal belongings.
  •          Use large clear timetables, calendars, checklists, and pictures.
  •          Avoid screen time before bedtime. Ensure sufficient sleep.
  •          Encourage their strengths, interests and hobbies.
  •          Relate new information to old/familiar information.
  •          Try aids such as: writing on hand, naming items in a list, repeating instructions, verbal rehearsal – say out loud then whisper to self then say in head, note-taking, alarms, leaving objects in an unusual place to remind you of something, rhymes/songs, mnemonics, chunking

How can we help at school?

On average three children in every class will have difficulties with working memory so across the school many strategies are in place to maximise learning.

The strategies used in school will be agreed with parents and the teacher and will be recorded on a Pastoral Support Plan.  Please see example.