Explicit Memorisation

Recently I’ve learned a poem by heart for the first time ever. I found it a hugely enjoyable thing to do, and also quite difficult. This now becomes part of my crystallised knowledge.

It is only recently that I’ve become aware that intelligence is thought of in two ways: fluid and crystallised. Nick Rose’s article Are these the 7 Pillars of Classroom Practice? put me on to Schooling Makes you Smarter by Richard E. Nisbett which discusses how IQ actually measures two types of intelligence:

  1. Fluid intelligence: perhaps the ability to solve novel problems using one’s working memory; and
  2. Crystallised intelligence: one’s store of knowledge about the world in the long term memory.

David Didau has (obviously) written about this and his blog is as usual essential reading. The second part of that blog puts forward the idea that although it is very difficult to increase one’s fluid intelligence, crystallised intelligence can be improved. It can be improved by knowing more things. Hence, school can and does increase the IQ of its students by getting them to know more.

This ties in with blogs by Joe Kirby which I have been reading over the last couple of years, advocating students memorising knowledge by using knowledge organisers, in fact his school have students memorising/ learning by heart knowledge for all their subjects every day. It is a knowledge based curriculum.

Back to my memorisation of the poem. Memorising it was hard. Learning things by heart is hard. To ‘rote learn’ as some may have it is not an easy option. Lets look at the detail of how I did it and how it can be done at school. Again, this is basically all from Joe Kirby. What I did was have the poem as the screen saver on my phone and followed these steps:

  • Look
  • Cover
  • Write
  • Check

It took me about a week, and now I can recite it whenever I want to.

I’ve tried getting students to do this at school with some success. They tell me it’s what they did at primary school and what they do to learn vocab in MFL. It makes sense to me that we as teachers should be making explicit strategies for memorisation with our students: explicit memorisation. In fact, in my role as leader of whole school numeracy I am going to be getting every single student to know a huge number of mathematical facts off-by heart. I will be helping to increase their IQ.

So what is the teacher’s role in this? (with apologies to the huge amount of people who have already advocated knowledge organisers)

  1. Make a list of all the knowledge that you want students to know by heart (I’ve seen Dani Quinn say that anything we as teachers know without having to reason it out should go in the knowledge organiser)
  2. Explicitly teach methods of memorising this knowledge, such as look-cover-write-check and the use of Quizlet
  3. Frequently test the students on this knowledge.




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