Saturday, 18 March 2017

Memorising Vocabulary Using Visual and Associative Memory

Students practice their memorising skills and learn a new memorising technique which involves their visual and associative memory.



In order to reassure and build up the confidence of the students, I sometimes tell them that learning English is all about memorising. My point is that the grammar being so simple (there is no conjugation like in Spanish, or declension like in German), all they have to do is learn the vocabulary. And if they put the words in the correct order, they should be able to be understood (though it is easier said than done).

Having said that to assume that students will know how to memorise is a fallacy, even if they are 18 years old. As teachers, we cannot but notice that memorising is a real pitfall for students. Where I teach first-year students often have no prior knowledge of the specialised and technical vocabulary of their study field in English, which means they will have to learn it within a relatively short time lapse. 

In this article, I intend to present you some findings and particularly an exercise through which students are taught how to use both their visual and associative memory. 

My understanding is that memory geniuses use more parts of the brain than we do to stock information, notably the parts in charge of visualisation and ideas association. So why not combine them both. There are many videos out there that will teach for instance how to memorise the elements of the periodic table imagining that Helium is hot air balloon that crashes on a cell phone that represents Lithium. The more absurd the better! That led me to conduct a little experiment with the students. 

I provided them with a list of specialised terms (the farm machines and tools for instance) and asked them to choose a difficult word from the list. Then I told them to create a picture that associates the French word (a picture of the machine) with a clue that would help them remember the word in English. Here is the example I gave them: the English word wheel sounds similar to the French word huile so I imagined a wheel covered in oil or a wheel in the middle of a sunflower field.


Students practice their memorising skills and learn a new memorising technique which involves their visual and associative memoryStudents practice their memorising skills and learn a new memorising technique which involves their visual and associative memory









For this technique to work, it is paramount that the mental image created associates the original object (i.e the wheel) and a clue that points to the English word of that image (i.e. huile). Here are some of the results of that experiment, some creations from the students:


Students practice their memorising skills and learn a new memorising technique which involves their visual and associative memory
Students practice their memorising skills and learn a new memorising technique which involves their visual and associative memory











Students practice their memorising skills and learn a new memorising technique which involves their visual and associative memory
Students practice their memorising skills and learn a new memorising technique which involves their visual and associative memory














Eventually, I did a powerpoint presentation of all the pictures created by the students and projected to the class. We commented on each creation as some of them needed explaining (and had a good laugh). They were then required to learn all the 30 words or so for a vocabulary test. As expected students had very good grades! 



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