Jade Slater continues our focus on evidence based teaching and learning strategies.

With terminal exams and the removal of controlled assignments, the amount of knowledge students are required to remember and recall has hugely increased. This is especially true for Business Studies and Economics as these are subjects which most pupils will not have studied before, and therefore may have little prior knowledge.  These subjects also contain a huge amount of new concepts and technical vocabulary and ideas. Fortunately, cognitive science- the study of learning and memory – can provide some insights into the strategies which can be used to improve retention and recall by students. This article will examine each of these techniques and suggest methods that can be used to implement them in the classroom.

Strategy 1 – Retrieval Practice:

Image source: www.teachinghow2s.com

Retrieval practice is any task which requires pupils to retrieve concepts or facts from their memories. This is often referred to as ‘test-enhanced learning’ or more simply as quizzing. This aids performance in terminal exams because being required to retrieve information from your memory increases long-term retention of this information, making it easier to recall in the future. This is known as the ‘testing effect’. This has been shown to be much more effective than re-studying information (Brown, Roediger and McDaniel, 2014). Some techniques which can be used to effectively use retrieval practice in the classroom include:

  1. Start each lesson with a quiz that reviews the material from the last lesson and also some material that was covered last week and last month. These should be ‘low stakes’ quizzes where the marks are not collected (Rosenshine, 2012).
  2. Use quizzes which require all pupils to answer such as mini-white boards or coloured/lettered cards. This ensures all pupils do the cognitive work required to answer the question.
  3. Use quizzes as homework to review material from previous lessons.
  4. Knowledge organisers – A knowledge organiser specifies in detail, the facts and knowledge that all pupils will need to know and remember about a particular topic. These can be used for in-lesson quizzes by giving blank grids to students which they fill in, or as homework – pupils can ‘self-quiz’ at home by covering up one side of the knowledge organiser and writing out the knowledge from memory. They can then self-check this and correct any mistakes. They can also ask parents or friends to test them on the material. Pupils can be asked to learn sections as homework, to then be tested on at the start of the next lesson.

Strategy 2 – Spacing:

Spacing is revisiting a topic sometime after first learning it. Research has shown this to be effective as it allows for some forgetting time. Retrieving this information is therefore more difficult and so long-term retention is improved (Willingham, 2009). There are a number of ways in which you can implement this strategy into your teaching:

Use ‘lagged homework’ so that homework is used to review a topic taught in previous weeks/months. See business studies example.

Use starter quizzes as bell work to review multiple topics after they have been taught – see business studies example.

Strategy 3 – Interleaving:

This is when topics are taught and revised interleaved with one another. This is in contrast to teaching and revising the whole of one topic and then the whole of another topic (Brown, Roediger and McDaniel, 2014). This contrast is demonstrated in the following image:

This also involves mixing up materials within topics. For example, when solving different types of problems or answering different types of questions, the types should be mixed up. This contrasts to practising all of one type of question/problem before moving onto another.

Strategy 4 – Concrete Examples:

This is the use of specific examples to explain abstract ideas.  This makes the idea easier to grasp and remember (Willingham, 2009). One of the main writers on cognitive psychology, the Learning Scientists give the example of the idea of scarcity. Scarcity can be explained as ‘when something is rare it can be said to have a higher value’. This may be difficult for pupils to understand and remember. However, when using the example of aeroplane tickets becoming more expensive as the day of the flight gets nearer and there are fewer seats available, the idea is easier to understand and remember.

Strategy 5 – Elaboration:

Elaboration means explaining and describing an idea with many details.  This may also include connecting the idea to other ideas and connecting the material to the pupils’ experiences, memories and current knowledge. This is achieved through questioning including asking pupils for clarification, explanation, contextualisation and speculation. This helps to develop deeper understanding and ensure that this meaning is transferred into the long-term memory (Dunlosky, 2013).

Strategy 6 – Dual Coding:

Dual coding is the process of combining verbal and visual materials. Visual materials can include images, timelines, graphic organisers, and spider diagrams. Using dual coding in your explanations helps to lessen the load on the working memory, which as we have seen has a limited capacity. This is because our working memory is formed of verbal and visual components. When we manage to combine the two, understanding is facilitated (Mccrea, 2017).

This can firstly be implemented in teacher presentations which should include the use of images and limited written text. Secondly, pupils should be asked to represent topics using graphic organisers. For example, double bubble maps can be used to explore similarities and differences between two topics -the differences are placed in the outer rings and the similarities in the linked spaces. Sequence arrows can be used to show order of a process. Cause and effect organisers require pupils to link the causes and consequences of a topic. Spider diagrams help pupils to focus on the links between topics, deepening understanding. Finally, pupils can transfer text into diagram form to aid retention and understanding and help to summarise a topic.

Strategy 7 – Teach these strategies to your pupils:

The techniques above should also be used by pupils in their own self-study. Therefore, these techniques have to be explicitly taught to pupils, including explaining the reasons why they are effective, modelling how to use them, allowing pupils to practice using the techniques with support from their teacher and finally, allowing pupils to use these techniques independently. Research (including the most recent EEF report on metacognition and self-regulated learning) has shown that this is more effective if done in subject-specific contexts (EEF, 2018).

Jade Slater is an Assistant Headteacher at Walton High School, Staffordshire.


Brown, Roediger and McDaniel, 2014, make it stick: The Science of Successful Learning, Massachusetts: The Belknap of Harvard Univerity Press

Dunlowsky, J. (2013) Strengthening the student toolbox. American Educator, 37(3), 12-21.

EEF, Metacognition and self-regulated learning, 2018

Mccrea, P. 2017, Memorable Teaching: Leveraging memory to build deep and durable learning in the classroom, Poland, Amazon Fulfilment

Rosenshine, B. (2012) Principles of Instruction: Research-based strategies that all teachers should know about. American Educator, Spring 2012.

Willingham, 2009, Why don’t students like school: A cognitive scientist answers questions about how the mind works and what it means for the classroom, San Francisco: Jossey Bass