Rote Memory for certain kinds of learning
Would you like to memorize a beautiful poem?
Do you need to learn your lines for a play?
If so you need to use Rote Memory.
Remember that material learned by rote memory is lost more quickly than when learned through more active processing strategies.
Remember that the best way to remember is to use a variety of strategies.
What you don’t remember, you might as well not have learned.
— Harry Lorayne
The road in the picture is clearly moving up the mountain.I use the metaphor of “Pathways” of learning so readers will pictures the many different ways there are to use your wonderful memory.
Consider how if feels to move uphill. If you walk or ride a bicycle up this road, it would take a great deal of effort. But when you reach the summit and look out at the amazing view, you realize it was worth the effort.
Learning to use our memory also takes a lot of work. And, like struggling to get to the top of the mountain, we realize it is well worth the effort.
Learn your Lines
The method is much the same whether learning a poems, memorizing verses of scripture, or learning lines for a play. It also works when learning new vocabulary. This is a familiar method.
1. Read a passage that seems short enough to remember.This can be a sentence or two, a short verse of poetry, or a word and definition.
2. Look away and repeat it by memory. Check back to see if you were correct. If you made a mistake, repeat until you are sure you know it. You can read aloud and recite aloud or you can do both silently.
3. Now read and practice the second passage.
4. When you can remember that, Start from the beginning. Can you recite the two passages together? If not, read them together and practice. Then add the third passage and so on. If you are memorizing something short, this is enough.
When memorizing poetry, it often helps to read it aloud and listen for rhyme (if present) and rhythm. It is almost like learning a song, and when we learn a song, the rhyme, the rhythm, and the tune all work together with the words.
If you are learning a long poem, you might memorize one or two verses at a time, then put the first set of verses with the next set, until you complete the poem. If memorizing lines for a play, learn one scene at a time.
Another helpful memory method
My mother had memorized a long poem, “The Cremation of Sam McGee,” by Robert W. Service. One year, for her birthday present, I memorized the poem as a surprise. For many years, whenever we got together, we always tried to recite it. What one of us forgo,t the other remembered. I still recite it mentally while the dentist works on my teeth. But with long poems it is easy to get the verses in the wrong order.
If you are memorizing lines for a play, it helps to understand the plot clearly. Study how one scene follows another. Then it’s easy to patch the scenes together. If memorizing a long piece of scripture or a long poem, study the flow from one verse to another. Picture a mental movie, noting what happens in each scene. Another way to do this is to create a flow chart or simple timeline creating a visual showing the order of events.
Do you want to remember this for a long time?
The secret to remembering what you worked so hard to learn is this. Practice Regular Rehearsal. Just like studying material for a class, you
- Practice several times a day while learning it.
- Practice once a day for a week or some to start moving it to long-term learning.
- Practice weekly, then monthly, stretching out the time between practices. I do my poems yearly now.
This is a brief description of Scheduled Reviews. To read more: Scheduled Reviews
With this method, you should be able to remember it for the rest of your life.
Use Flash Cards in a variety of ways
I have used flash cards for many purposes: learning vocabulary in preparation for the SAT, learning vocabulary in Spanish and Chinese, learning the names of bones, muscles, nerves, etc. for comparative anatomy. I really wish I had flash cards now to help me learn the names of birds.
The main advantage of flash cards for me was that I could tuck them in my pocket and study whenever I had a free moment. Taking comparative anatomy one summer in New York City, I took the subway for at least an hour each way. I used four or five flash cards at a time and could study those, even while standing and holding a pole to keep my balance. I could never do that with a book.
Steven Frank, in The Everything Study Book, has an interesting variation. He lists terms on one card and definitions on another. He goes might take one card with a term and search for the definition card to go with it. He might take a definition care and look for the term. This way he reads all the terms and definitions many times. It would take time to create all the cards but it would seem more like a game. I would find this helpful at the beginning, but I think you’d know them better if you practiced repeating the definition.
When learning new terms or any kind of vocabulary, I would add several suggestions.
1. Be sure you can pronounce the word properly. If you aren’t sure, look it up. You can even Google it. If you want to learn the pronunciation for the Prothonatory Warbler Google it You can hear someone pronouncing it.
2. Write or explain the definition in your own words. This helps even when you are required to know the definition exactly as given. In biology, we needed to know the definition of Osmosis precisely as our professors dictated it to us. We had to write it exactly that way on many tests. It is easier to memorize something if you understand it clearly.
3. Use the terms in a sentence, maybe in several different sentences.
4. If possible, actually use the word while talking to your friends. The word, osmosis, or other technical terms might not work too well but others will. I remember when my son learned the word, plethera, in high school. For months he talked about a veritable plethera of girls, video games, homework or whatever. Use the word but don’t drive your friends crazy.
Keep a list or notebook of new words you have learned that year. Go over them daily, then weekly and, when you know them pretty well, monthly. It doesn’t take long and makes the word yours for life.
An Example of Rote Learning: How I learn to Recognize Birds
I am a birdwatcher. I study bird books before taking a trip. There is no possible way to memorize 500 new birds in a short period of time. I spend months studying before each trip.
I buy a bird book for the areas where we are going. I study the range maps and make lists of the birds we’re likely to see in that season. I place a small x next to birds I’m not likely to see. Next, I organize birds we’re likely to see into habitats: freshwater, salt water, woods, grassland. I study the birds in manageable chunks that I’m likely to see together. While in wet areas, I’m most likely to see wetland birds, so I study them together.
I also start with pages that easy to learn. Herons are easier than ducks. Brightly-colored birds are easier than those who are all brown or gray. Large birds are easier than small birds. I study the birds on a single page (usually 3 -7 birds.) I practice by hiding the names and guessing. I repeat that at least a dozen times. I may only remember them for 30 minutes at first, The only birds I remember the next day are very special birds like the Goliath Heron.
Next, I might look at all the ducks or all the herons. I feel like I’m looking at those pairs of pictures where you need to find six differences. When I spot a difference, I mark it and practice the names for that section. The next day I go back over those and add a page. When I finish the book, I might wait a week or so before I start all over, doing the bird groups in a different order. Sure it’s work, but it’s fun to challenge myself.
Among the birds we saw on a trip to Argentina, the Southern Screamer had both a name and appearance that were hard to forget. They are not quite as large as a turkey, but have bright red legs and face. I didn’t need to check the book. I knew them immediately. I think, if you were to see one, you’d recognize it too. You might forget it’s name, but you’d remember seeing it on “that website about study skills.”
Wherever we went, our birding guides were rather surprised to learn that I could identify birds I’d never seen before.One memorable experience was in the southern tip of Argentina, Tierra del Fuego. We were with a Bird Guide when a tiny bird buzzed past.
“Green-backed Firethorn,” I said even though I had seen only a blur.
“How in the world,” the guide asked, “could you tell?”
“Simple,” I answered. “It flew like a hummingbird and, according to the book, the Green-backed Firethorn is the only hummingbird in this area.”
People sometimes think I have a photographic memory. That’s not true. I just take the time to study my birds very thoroughly. I love it when I can spot a bird and name it with confidence. I only wished I could identify other little birds as easily.
But, I must confess, since I don’t anticipate returning to any of these places, I stop studying the birds as soon as the trip is over… or at least, after I’ve identified all the pictures we took. Within weeks after we return home, I begin to forget them. My brain senses that I’m not using the information and only a few of the most exciting birds will last in my long term memory. You can be sure I won’t forget the Southern Screamers.
Links to other pathways of memory: