10 Steps to Meaningful Memorization

Learning May 13, 2024

With so much information at our fingertips through internet-connected devices, is memorization an outdated learning strategy? Yes and no.

Foundational knowledge—such as addition facts—and key concepts in any field must often be recalled rapidly. These pieces of information are regularly integrated into reasoning required for more complex learning and daily living. The brain’s complex web of neural pathways connects mental, spiritual, socio-emotional, physical, and contextual details unique to each child of God. Rote learning of facts does not prepare a learner to apply learning in real life. However, when meaning-making learning activities are intentionally planned, the memorization of procedural steps, key concepts, and guiding principles proves to still be an important part of education today.

In “The Risks of Rewards” Alfie Kohn writes, “extrinsic motivators cause intrinsic motivation to evaporate.” Teachers who experienced rewards and praise as incentives for desired learning—and punishment and threats to control learning and behavior—need to retool in order to be effective today. Teaching the following skills can help students memorize core concepts and terms in any discipline. Through these steps, students can also learn to store character-building Bible verses, poetry, and inspiring speeches in their minds.

  1. Read it. Reading is the key path to learning for visual learners. Engage multiple senses (see, hear, say, act) to deepen neural pathways.
  2. Understand it. Gain the context first, such as the number of key terms or words to learn, and determine how materials relate or sequence. Help the learner understand why these things are worth learning; emphasize meaning before memorization.
  3. Pray it. Invite students to ask God for clear minds to learn and wisdom to recall what is learned. Beginning memorization moments with trust in God can calm and focus the learner and teacher alike. 
  4. Say it. Auditory learners benefit most from speaking what they are memorizing. All learners benefit by testing their memory, and this can be done by saying or signing material out loud. Learners can do this for their own ears as well as for others, who can give feedback that aids deeper learning.
  5. Chunk it. Learn pieces one verse or term at a time. Then incrementally rehearse, linking parts together as a whole. Chunking effectively breaks learning into smaller, achievable goals.
  6. Rewrite it. Kinesthetic interaction with personal structuring of the information speeds up learning. Writing the first letter of each word can make a reminder code. Creating a mind map connecting concepts can be helpful. Making flashcards is a great tool to combine with spaced repetition.
  7. Move it. Interpreting and acting out concepts and passages works well for kinesthetic learners. This practice actively makes meaning in personalized ways and often involves other senses too.
  8. Repeat it. Establish neural pathways with 25 or more repetitions over a few days, then review the material over several weeks, increasing to 50 repetitions for permanent storage. Cramming is short-sighted.
  9. Apply it. Connect memorized concepts and passages to real life. Make them relevant and relate them to other pieces of learning. Context builds webs for greater recall.
  10. Share it. We test our memory, add accountability, extend understanding, and forge relationships by sharing what we learn. Encouraging cooperative learning builds community that enables deeper memory development and recall.

Memorization still matters in most areas of our life today. It develops our mind, aids further learning, and makes more effective service possible. Hiding God’s word in our hearts creates a moral compass that will guide us through life (Psalm 119:11). Teach and model these memorization strategies to give your students tools to thrive.

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Glynis Bradfield

Serves as the Director of Distance Students Services at Andrews University, USA. Coordinating circle.adventist.org, she has enjoyed finding and sharing resources that help Adventist educators around the globe continue the teaching ministry of Jesus Christ. Serving as a missionary multi-grade educator in three countries in Africa honed skills in comparative education and assessment, prompting her doctoral research developing the GDI, an assessment of spiritual growth.

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