Working Memory Matters

Does your child forget what you have asked them to do by the time they have left the room? Does your child misplace their belongings constantly? Do they remember the game they played at lunchtime but not the children they played with?

You ask your child to wait while you finish a phone call before they tell you something important—by the time you finish, they have forgotten what they wanted to say.

If you recognise your child in these scenarios, they may need extra support to build up their working memory.

What is working memory?

Working memory is where your child stores the information needed to complete a task. Their working memory capacity will increase as they get older. There is a wide variation in working memory capacity between individual students. Forward and backward digit recall is 2 measures used to measure Working Memory capacity.

Why are schools concerned about working memory?

It is used for controlling attention…...resisting distraction…..complex thinking….. organisation...... problem-solving…..remembering tasks.

Student progress in reading and maths is closely related to their working memory capacities.

Students with limited working memory may display one or more of the following characteristics in a classroom…..

  • They are easily distracted when doing something that is not highly engaging for them
  • They may have trouble waiting their turn
  • They may struggle to get started and complete a task
  • They often depend on friends to remind them of current task
  • They often have difficulty organising something with multiple steps, frequently stop and lose their place
  • They may lose belongings frequently
  • They may fail to progress despite working hard

How will you see teachers supporting these students in the classroom?

  • Teachers making sure they are not speaking too rapidly or too softly

  • Teachers keeping instructions to one or two steps  

  • Using external aids like lists, wall charts, posters, personalised spelling cards, computer software


A visual reminder of a task supports students


Visual reminders help students remember where they are supposed to be


Visual timetables help students keep on track

  • Restructuring tasks to make them simpler and shorter.

  • Increase waiting time to answer a question and/or explain their thinking.


Getting students to explain what they are doing helps embed information

  • Setting more group work so a task can be broken up and shared.  


Working in groups helps share the memory load

  • Setting simple goals alongside students.

  • Examples and models of desired end result for students to see.


Models Examples give students a visual reminder as to what they are expected to do

  • Repeating instructions in different ways, ask students to repeat back.

  • Some rote learning- many successful interventions involve repeated practice.

  • Having students teaching others- having them explain how to do something.


Students teaching students creates deeper meaning which in turn supports memory

  • Making tasks multisensory- processing information in as many ways as possible will help with working memory and long-term memory. Writing, saying them out loud, listening and doing.

How you can help your child at home?

  • Help your child create chants, rhymes, and raps to remember spelling rules and basic math facts like multiplication tables. Rhythm makes information memorable.

  • Practice an activity to engrave it in memory. Instead of expecting your child to remember what they’ve been told to do, do a run-through.

  • Provide reminders to keep your child organised and ready to learn. Post a checklist by the front door to remind them of which day to bring swimming gear for example.

  • Give your child a list of items (animals, say) and ask them to repeat it backwards. Start with three items and add more as they improve. Help them think of strategies for managing longer lists. Does visualising each item make it easier for them?

  • Ask your child to count two different types of items at one time. Eg, as you drive, have them keep track of the number of red and green cars they see.

  • Let them play on memory games & apps like Jungle Memory- a computer programme has been specifically designed for children to improve their memory.  

  • Have your child teach you eg explain a game they have been doing at school

  • There are lots of matching games that can help your child work on visual memory. You can also do things like give your child a magazine page and ask him to circle all instances of the word the or the letter a in one minute. You can also turn license plates into a game. Take turns reciting the letters and numbers on a license plate and then saying them backwards, too.

  • Simple card games like Uno, Last Card and Go Fish can improve working memory in two ways. Your child has to keep the rules of the game in mind and also has to remember what cards they have and which ones other people have played.

           Keywords: Working Memory, capacity, instructions, restructuring tasks, visual aids, reminders, explaining, multi-sensory,

6.Working in groups helps share the memory load