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Working Memory Difficulties: Strategies for the Classroom

working memory

Working memory meaning is defined by its position as a critical cognitive ability that allows individuals to briefly comprehend and keep knowledge in their thoughts. It enables us to actively interact with information, assisting us in understanding and navigating the world around us. Working memory supports numerous mental processes by keeping and manipulating information in real time, and it is critical in learning, problem solving, and everyday cognitive functions. Understanding the importance and strategies of working memory is critical for educators, psychologists, and researchers. Working memory psychology research continues to improve our knowledge of this essential mental process.

Strategies For Working Memory:

1. Chunking and Breaking Information:

Breaking down complex information into smaller, more manageable chunks can significantly ease the cognitive load on students with working memory difficulties. When presenting instructions or content, teachers should divide them into clear, sequential steps. Using bullet points, visuals, or numbered lists can help organise information and make it easier for students to process and retain.

2. Repetition and Reinforcement:

Repetition is a powerful tool to reinforce learning and memory retention. Reviewing key concepts and information regularly helps solidify the knowledge in students’ minds. Teachers can incorporate brief review sessions at the beginning or end of each class, use flashcards, or include periodic quizzes to refresh students’ memories.

3. Multimodal Learning:

Engaging students in multimodal learning experiences can enhance memory retention and cater to different learning styles. Combining visual aids, auditory explanations, and hands-on activities can strengthen neural connections and provide multiple pathways for students to grasp the material.

4. Scaffolding:

Scaffolding refers to providing temporary support to students as they learn new skills or concepts. For students with working memory difficulties, this can be particularly helpful in breaking down complex tasks into smaller, achievable steps. As students gain confidence and competence, teachers can gradually reduce the level of support, fostering independence.

5. Visual Organisation:

Using visual aids, such as mind maps, graphic organisers, and flowcharts, can help students with working memory challenges organise and connect information effectively. Visual representations make abstract concepts more concrete, facilitating better comprehension and retention.

6. Memory Aids:

Encourage students to use memory aids, such as notebooks, planners, or digital tools, to jot down important information. These aids help offload information from working memory and serve as external reminders that students can refer back to when needed.

7. Predictable Routine:

Establishing a predictable classroom routine can reduce the cognitive load for all students, including those with working memory difficulties. A consistent schedule allows students to anticipate what comes next, minimising the mental effort required to adjust to new situations continually.

8. Clear and Concise Language:

Using clear and concise language is essential when delivering instructions or explanations. Avoiding complex sentence structures and providing straightforward explanations can help students better understand and remember the key points.

9. Encourage Active Participation:

Active participation in class discussions and interactive learning activities can enhance memory consolidation. Encourage students to ask questions, participate in group activities, and engage with the material actively. This involvement aids memory retention and deepens understanding.

10. Flexible Assessment Methods:

Adopting flexible assessment methods can accommodate students with working memory challenges. Offering extended time for tests and assignments or providing alternative ways to demonstrate knowledge, such as oral presentations or visual projects, ensures that these students can showcase their understanding effectively.

Working Memory Examples in Real Time:

Here are some interesting working memory examples to understand better.

  • Remembering a phone number long enough to dial it.
  • Following multi-step instructions to complete a recipe.
  • Mentally calculating mathematical operations without writing them down.
  • Listening to a lecture and taking notes simultaneously.
  • Holding a conversation while mentally planning the next response.
  • Reading a paragraph and summarising its main points.

Importance of working memory for students:

Learning and comprehension:

Learning and comprehension depend on working memory to absorb and apply new information. Students need to hold the information presented by the teacher or read from a textbook in their working memory to make connections with existing knowledge, draw conclusions, and form a deeper understanding of the subject matter.

Following Instructions:

In the classroom, students constantly receive instructions from teachers, which they must follow to complete tasks and assignments. Strong working memory enables students to retain and process these instructions efficiently, ensuring they can execute the tasks accurately and on time.

Problem Solving:

Problem-solving tasks often involve holding and manipulating information mentally, especially when solving multi-step problems or complex scenarios. A robust working memory allows students to strategize and plan their approach effectively.

Attention and Focus:

Working memory is closely related to attention and focus. Students with better working memory tend to stay more focused during lessons, as they can retain the information and actively engage with the content.

Reading and Writing:

Reading comprehension relies on the ability to hold and manipulate information about the characters, plot, and context while reading a text. Similarly, in writing, students need to keep track of ideas, grammar rules, and organisation in their working memory to produce coherent and well-structured compositions.

Mathematical Operations:

Mathematics often involves mentally manipulating numbers and applying mathematical rules to solve problems. Working memory is essential for temporarily holding intermediate results and steps during calculations.

Academic Performance:

Students with stronger working memory capabilities tend to perform better academically. They can process and retain information more effectively, which leads to better performance in tests, quizzes, and assignments.

Long-term Learning:

Working memory is essential for moving information from short-term to permanent memory. Without sufficient working memory capacity, students may struggle to retain information in their minds, leading to difficulties in recalling and applying knowledge later.


In the classroom, students must regularly handle many activities at once, such as listening to the teacher, taking notes, and engaging in discussions. Students with strong working memories are better able to manage these activities.

Executive Functioning:

Working memory is a component of executive functioning, which involves higher-order cognitive processes like planning, organisation, and decision-making. Strengthening working memory can positively impact overall executive functioning skills.


Working memory is a key cognitive skill studied in psychology that allows people to store and modify information. It is essential for learning, mental activity, and problem solving. Understanding the significance of working memory psychology enables educators to develop effective techniques to help children with working memory problems, resulting in improved academic performance for students. Visit EuroSchool to learn more.

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