Let’s face it. The truth. We ask our students to retain an E-N-O-R-M-O-U-S amount of information in the world language classroom! Vocabulary, verbs, conjugations, grammar, rules, exceptions to the rules, and the list goes on and on and on. How can we help our students to retain all of this information that is floating around in their heads? We have to help them make a memory connection! What is it exactly that allows someone to retain information so that it is connected in their brain and can be retrieved at will? Well, it’s not surprising that it may take a little something different for each of us. That’s why I want to share with you today some of the top memory connectors that we have available to us. Some memory devices work well with vocabulary, others with grammar, others with general concepts, but each serves a purpose and helps learners to retain information in their memory.
I’ll start with my favorite! I love songs! Songs are fun and they make things super easy to remember. Think about it. That’s how we learned an incredible amount of information as children. I’m not embarrassed to admit that I still sing the alphabet song when I’m looking something up in a dictionary in order to remember the order of the letters. I also often sing a song I learned as a child to remember how many days each month has. Admit it. There are songs you still sing too… maybe when no one is watching, but you know you do! So, harness this power in the world language classroom! There are lots of songs that correspond to just about anything you would teach. I have been using songs for my entire teaching career (20+ years), and I have learned a couple of things.
First, my students don’t like really long songs. They want something short and sweet that gets to the point. I know there are tons of artists to choose from, and I’ve tried a lot of them, but my favorite that I have used for 15+ years from high schoolers to the college students that I teach now is Gale Mackey (his album Grammar Songs). His songs are simplistic, but my students really love the irregular positive command song, and especially the irregular participle song. I mean REALLY like this one! I also use some of his others, but these are the ones that my students couldn’t live without. They like them because they work! Like everything that has a fan following, you can sample his work on YouTube here. In fact, my teaching materials that I created for these two grammatical topics have the order of the words in his songs because I can’t live without them either! They make my life so much easier when teaching these topics. If you would like a full presentation of the grammar with practice worksheets, and slides with the words to be able to use these timely songs, you can find the informal grammar resource here and the present perfect grammar resource here.
Second, my students don’t need a recorded, fancy song to be happy. They are thrilled with a good ‘ol ‘piggy-back’ song. If you’re not sure what that is, I’ll explain. This is when a popular song such as Row, Row, Row Your Boat is used with new words. My students really like these because they already know the tune. And don’t let them fool you… at first, they’ll act like they are too mature for a children’s song, but I guarantee you they will be humming these songs by the second day! My students especially like my food song that is sung to the tune of ‘Do Your Ears Hang Low’. Silly, I know… but it works, believe me! I started writing my own piggy-back songs during my third year of teaching, and I never looked back. If you like this concept, you can find some songs that I’ve written here. And you can get a free one here! Oh… and one more thing. No, I am NOT a singer, and I don’t sing well. Don’t ever choose NOT to use songs in class for that reason! Not all students can sing either, and believe me, they appreciate the fact that you are singing, and it will encourage them to sing as well.
You can’t go wrong with a good rhyme! And, no, I don’t mean like Humpty Dumpty. I mean other rhymes for teaching concepts. For example, how many of you learned this pearl of wisdom: ‘I before E, except after C’? Exactly! So if you hear a good rhyme that will help your students remember something, use it now! I have used a few over the years. I’m not sure where I picked this one up, but I help my students to remember pronunciation by using the rhyme ‘Is and Es soften Cs and Gs’. Sometime long ago I came up with these that also are quite handy, so feel free to use them! The first is talking about those pesky verbs in the preterite that have the Y in the third person. The rhyme is ‘verbs that take the Y require accents on the Is’. The second is this one that I came up with because I would always get asked about the gender of adjectives. The question would go something like this: ‘How do you know when to use the masculine or feminine for…. for example, an adjective describing the person ‘yo’ or ‘tú’ on a worksheet. I usually explain the long version once , but after that, rather than explain the whole thing that it could go either way and it all depends upon who that person is and since we don’t know on a worksheet, that it really could be either one… whew, that’s a breath full… I find it much easier to just say, ‘If you don’t know, go with the O’ meaning the masculine ending. This also works for when students need to translate a sentence from English to Spanish and the subject pronoun is ‘they’ or ‘we’. Again, the rhyme works perfectly…. after all if there is a group such as ‘students’, the probability would be that it is a mixed group requiring the masculine ending.
Anther memory connector that will help most of your students is visuals. Statistically, according to the Social Science Research Network, 65 percent of the population consists of visual learners. That means that when teachers just lecture, they are reaching less than half of the class! This is why as language teachers we need to constantly relate the words to visuals. Sometimes this is as easy as pointing to the object in class, but it’s not possible to have every object at your fingertips in the classroom. About three years into my teaching career, I did my Master’s of Arts in Teaching Language and one of the classes that I took revolved around TPRS and story telling. From that time, pictures ruled in my classroom! I was constantly looking for pictures to make resource sheets for my students. Back then it was copy and paste and ugly black and white pics. We’ve come a long way for sure from those dark ages of teaching before the technical advances like the Internet and images that can be found there! Sometimes I wonder how I even survived those years… are you with me veteran teachers? Anyway, I digress… pictures… are fabulous! They allow you to maintain the target language as much as humanly possible for a level 1 or 2 language class! Yes, sometimes you get the kid that is difficult that wants to act like he can’t understand the meaning of the pictures… ok, if it were one or two, but ALL of them? Yes, we have difficult students. But, the majority of students will jump on board and love the extra resource that they have which can be used for study at home, to make flash cards, or simply to use in class when working on an activity requiring them to use those words. It’s a time saver for me too because I don’t have to translate for every new word… pictures are self-explanatory 99% of the time. Sometimes, yes, you must help in English if it’s more of an abstract idea or point them to the vocabulary list in the book to look it up themselves. I love telling my students to take out their notes and seeing those pictures come out! Every time they see the word with the picture, it reinforces the meaning IN the target language. How great is that? I also put these same pictures into a PowerPoint format which I use in various ways. I use them as sort of a digital flash card set with the entire class in which I call on individuals to identify the picture with the target language. Sometimes right before a test I’ll have the class answer chorally instead of individually. I also sometimes put students into pairs and have them go through the slides with their partners identifying and pronouncing the words. They can also be easily posted to my class management system and this allows the students to use them to review and practice at home. If you don’t want to make your own, you can find the ones that I’ve created in my TPT store under the topic desired. Here is an example of the notes and corresponding PowerPoint for house vocabulary in Spanish.
Those are my top picks for memory connectors to help students retain information. There are lots more out there too! Maybe you have your favorites just like me! What would be your top three memory connectors?