Campus Life - Kamloops  

Improve memorization with fun and games

Jason Ji UPrep faculty

Overwhelmed by having too much to memorize in not enough time?

Find some memory tools that are fun and that work for you and you could find yourself breathing a lot easier around test time, said Jason Ji, a TRU UPrep instructor who recently presented Knowledge Retention and Memorable Learning during TRU’s fourth annual ESL Research and Professional Development Colloquium.

“Having fun is a big part of what I do in the classroom because I enjoy having fun and students do, too. Having fun is central to learning. You’re going to remember more when you’re having fun and not finding the material completely boring or feeling like you’re not making the most of your time,” said Ji, who was one of 21 presenters that included faculty, teaching assistants and students in the Master of Education and ones in the Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) program. See below for the full list of presenters that day.

Following are some techniques Ji uses in his classes and with himself.

Add description and detail

Pick a word or concept and give it some context by adding descriptions. If you’re trying to remember a species of tree, you could ask: What colour is the bark? What climate does it prefer? What are some of its distinguishing features?

Through this, you’re putting a multi-layered picture in your head, and the abundance of descriptions helps better recall of the tree species later on.

Creating stories and saying them over and over

As an undergrad studying music, Ji had to remember hundreds of dates linked to composers, whether it was their birthdays, key moments or their deaths.

“What I would do is walk about in my room and create a story to string all the information together. Or I would use the simple technique of rehearsal and go over the same thing over and over again.”

You can also audio record yourself and listen to the recording over and over.

And if you’re musical or theatrical, you could write short songs, raps and even write short plays, movies and documentaries about the information you’re trying to retain.


Closely linked to inventing stories is using a pattern of letters or words in a creative way to help recall spelling. It can even help with a collection of words belonging to a group, such as the countries making up the G7 or the geological periods of time.

Drawing on Ji’s music background and remembering the tricky spelling of Tchaikovsky, he offered: “People could think of chai, like some kind of tea. So it starts with T and is followed by chai. That’s just something I made up now, but I know that probably would have worked for me.”

Here’s an easy way to remember the value of pi to 10 decimal places. For each number, come up with a word of the same number of letters corresponding to that number. So, 3.1415926535 can be: May I have a large container of coffee ready for today. May is three letters long, I is one, have is four and so on.


Games are better suited for group study, and Ji uses variations of Pictionary and  Snakes and Ladders with his classes. With Pictionary, you’re again adding context and details while forming pictures in your mind and having fun. With the classic Snakes and Ladders, Ji swaps one deck of cards for ones with questions of his own creation. For example, you could be called to use a particular word or concept in a sentence or provide additional detail.

Which techniques are best for you?

“The tricky thing is to pick something that works for you and to know what works for you—try experimenting. There’s not a one size fits all, so you have to try a few different combinations,” he said, adding, “sometimes it’s difficult to say whether these strategies and techniques are for enhancing short- or long-term memory. This likely depends on the individual learner, but in general, they help people remember. I think they all contribute to learning efficacy in their own ways. You have to worry about short-term memory before you can worry about long-term memory.”

Here’s your homework

Now that you have a number of remembering techniques at your disposal, what suggestions do you have for recalling the proper uses of there, their, they’re?

Presenters, workshops and panel discussion who participated in TRU’s fourth annual ESL Research and Professional Development Colloquium in December:

Susanna Fawkes—Academic World List in Pictures: Beginner/Pre-Intermediate/Intermediate Level (teaching tip)

Jane Steiger—Stepping Out of the Comfort Zone (teaching tip)

Jim Hu—The Best of Best Online Learning Resources (teaching tip)

Trinh Bui (Alex) (moderator), Garima Yadav, Jingqi Huang (Jimmy), Jenifer Revel, Le Nguyen (Kevin), Marsha Steward—The Language Learning Center (LLC): Reflections and Expectations (panel discussion)

Jason Brown—Lessons Learned from A Paired Case Study in TRU’s English for Academic Purposes Program: Why TRU Needs Language Learning Advisors and a Self-Access Language Learning Centre (research report)

Nancy Carson, Bruno Cinel; Jan O’Brien—Focus on First Year (workshop)

Xuelin Liu—A Brief Introduction to “Confident Speaking” (book report)

Roy Langdon—My Journey in Creating “Kaska Tales:” A Collection of First Nation Stories (book report)

Jason Brown, Manjeet Gupta, Martin Schulte-Albert, and Anna Zlaman—Graduate Level Spoken Academic Discourse: Discussion That Is as Competitive as It Is Cooperative (research report)

Jack Massalski—Augmented Reality in ESL Classroom (workshop)

Andrew Meyerhoff—Facebook Exchange Project between Citizens of Lillooet, BC and Freshmen Japanese University Students in Saga, Japan (project report)

Le Nguyen (Kevin)—A Model of Teacher Professional Learning Communities for Instructors of English Language (research report)

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