When we think about the building blocks of reading, we often think about getting kids to accurately decode, recognize sight words, or comprehend what they've read. But cognitive scientists have discovered that developing a strong working memory is a key component in learning to read. Conversely, students with poor working memory skills have a more difficult time developing their language, which can lead to reading struggles (Montgomery, et al., 2019). This is a skill that is rarely taught explicitly in schools, but it CAN be strengthened with systematic and intentional instruction.
If you're a parent or a teacher, you may have come across students with working memory deficits before. These are the kids who can't seem to recall words quickly, have difficulty remembering multi-step directions, have difficulty maintaining focus, and/or need to reread a text often (to name just a few symptoms!).
So what can parents and teachers do to improve working memory?
Here are a few ideas:
1. Play Memory
This classic game is fun, but also is a wonderful tool for helping students improve
their working memory skills. Because students have to hold on to images in their
heads even when the cards are flipped over, as well as remember placement of
cards, this game is an excellent tool for honing skills that are required for reading.
2. What's Missing?
A quick and easy memory builder that requires only what you have around your
house! Place 5-8 objects in front of your child and give them several seconds to
study them. Have them cover their eyes while you take an object away. See if
your child can identify what's missing. To increase the skill level, reduce the time
you give to study the objects, or add more objects.
3. Can You Repeat That?
This is one I use in my classroom A LOT but it also works well at home, and it's so
simple! When someone shares their thinking, I ask another child a question like:
Can you repeat what your friend just said? or What part of what they said stood
out to you the most? or Can you add to what your friend just said? Having a child
process what someone said and then re-verbalizing or responding is an excellent
way to strengthen working memory.
4. Simple Card Games
Card games like Go Fish and Crazy Eights are helpful because, not only do the
students have to remember how to play the game, but they also have to remember
what cards the other players have.
This game has been around FOREVER, and it's still around for a reason -- it's a
fun way to boost memory! It makes a great birthday or holiday gift, too.
I hope you found value in this short list! What are some ways that you help your kids build memory skills?