The nature of schoolwork requires that certain elements of what students have learned be accessible instantly and with little or no effort. Over the years students must rely upon an increasing mastery or automatization of multiple facts and procedures. For example, the ability to form letters needs to be automatic so that a student can focus on developing ideas while writing. For students with delayed or ineffective automaticity, the recall of facts and procedures may be slow and excessively effortful. For example, a student with poor automaticity may have to work hard to remember multiplication facts when solving a problem, may have to constantly refer to a spelling list when writing a story, etc.

It’s important to note that sometimes students who have trouble recalling certain things fast enough in school, such as math facts or spelling words, may have very rapid recall for other things, such as episodes or events from day to day life.

Here are some strategies to help students develop their ability to access information through a focus on building automaticity.

Helpful Hints

  • Allow time for the overlearning of facts. Use flashcards, rhyming, rapping – multiple methods for overlearning. Have students work in teams, drilling each other on facts in a game format.
    • Provide explicit feedback when a student is mastering the recall or recognition of information: confirm, clarify or correct student responses during practice.
    • Until the necessary facts are mastered, allow students to use devices such as dictionaries, multiplication tables, etc. in order to complete the larger assignments.  
  • Teach students to use self-testing as a guide as to what they have mastered and what needs more attention.  
  • Allow opportunities for students to exercise their long-term memory muscles. For example:
    • Have students recall the details of an object seen earlier (size, color, shape, etc.). Gradually increase the time in between the viewing and the description.
    • Play memory games, such as “Concentration”, with numbers, words, and symbols, and word games such as “Hangman”, “Scrabble” and “Password.”
    • Have students practice creating association stories to help them remember things, such as materials to bring the next day. For example, a quick story can be created about the ruler of a kingdom declaring on paper that calculators are outlawed.  
  • Encourage students to use mnemonic strategies to help them recall information. For example:
    • Associating easy to remember symbols with items to be remembered: cherry tree/George Washington, top hat/Lincoln, vacuum cleaner/Hoover
    • Creating visual images for concepts, people, and entire ideas (reconstructive elaboration)- picturing the letter f as the stem of a flower, an emperor with a robe and crown in your mind when learning the meaning of the word “czar”
    • Creating acrostic elaborations, e.g., a strategy for the planets – “My very excellent mother just sells nuts until Passover”(Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, Uranus, Pluto), to remember the resetting of clocks – “Spring forward, Fall back”, etc.;
    • Using the first letter, or acronym, method, e.g., a strategy for the Great Lakes – HOMES (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior), a strategy for the colors of a rainbow – ROYGBIV (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet), etc.