Remembering Strategy: Random Errands? Make Up a Story!

Accessing important information stored in memory is a challenge for many students, with or without learning differences. We’ve covered some interesting remembering strategies in the past (like getting a good night’s rest or staying active while learning), but here’s one that comes right out of the SMARTS Executive Function program: storytelling.

I recently read an article from The Atlantic detailing a great remembering strategy that we also like and use in SMARTS: To Remember Random Errands, Turn Them Into a Story. (To learn more about remembering strategies, check out SMARTS Unit 5: Accessing Working Memory.) From the article:

Jonathan Adler, an assistant professor of psychology at Olin College of Engineering, said: “The default mode of human cognition is a narrative mode.”

That’s the key to the memory trick — it takes random dots of information and strings them into something with meaning. “If something is meaningful, it will be memorable,” says Gary Small, the director of the Longevity Center at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The “remembering” story can be surreal or nonsensical — you will still remember it. For example, if I was trying to remember my shopping list, which consisted of eggs, shaving cream, toothpaste, and toilet paper, I could make up a story like this:

“Princess Egg gets ready for the ball by putting on her best toilet paper gown with toothpaste embroidery and a high shaving cream wig.”

Yes, the story is random, but the image it produces sticks in the memory. Creating the narrative yourself is a vital part of helping your memory hold the information.

Students can use this strategy to remember any chain of information they need to memorize. I have heard hilarious stories about the water cycle, the order of US Presidents, and even how to solve a complex algebraic equation.

Try making up your own “remembering” story and share it with us in the comments!

  • Elizabeth Ross, M.A., SMARTS Media Manager