The Importance of Retrieval in Supporting Children’s Long Term Memory

We are now aware that children ‘doing more, knowing more and remembering more’ is something that is continually referred to in the Education Inspection Framework and Handbook. Most of us have made many moves, including creating several resources, to help with children’s retrieval or ‘ability to remember key knowledge’.


Igniting Children’s Prior Knowledge

One of the important strategies is igniting children’s prior knowledge. To this end, we have activities such as linking children to their prior knowledge at the beginning of lessons being used regularly. For mathematics lessons, I regularly come across activities such as, ‘fluency in five’. In other schools, I have come across early bird starters, etc. All of these are attempts to support children’s retention by igniting parts of the brain’s long-term memory so that new learning is more readily received.


Return to Key Knowledge

Alongside this is the importance of returning to key knowledge on a regular basis. For example, many schools use the first 10 minutes immediately after lunch to use what they describe as ‘retrieval activities’ to help with long-term retention. These are activities that work well across most subjects, but particularly well when the subject is not being taught on a daily basis. This applies to subjects such as history, geography, computing and DT. In these cases, the activities need to be brief and to the point. They can be oral or have a written outcome. To ensure we don’t add to the teachers’ workload we would recommend that these activities are easy to check.

The retrieval activities can be linked to the last unit for the given subject or indeed to learning they may have done in previous terms or years linked to the subject. A few schools I know have a fortnightly retrieval time allocated for 10 minutes after lunch with history every other Tuesday, geography every other Wednesday and science every other Thursday.


Recent research tells us that having a well organised retrieval system is enormously supportive for children’s long-term retention of key knowledge. What schools need is a bank of resources to support their retrieval activities. The activities need to be easy and quick to administer and preferable activities that children enjoy.


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