Working Memory Strategies

processing speed

Dear Melissa,

My daughter is in 9th grade and has low working memory and slow processing speed. We discovered in 4th grade that she may have a Central Auditory Processing disorder. 

I would appreciate any ideas you have that can help her with working memory. Are there some strategies and interventions I can help her with? Thank you very much.


Here are some strategies from the Can Learn Society to develop Working Memory:


  • Have students verbalize their steps in completing tasks. Listen for where the learning breakdown is occurring.
  • Evaluate the working memory demands of  activities. A student with working memory difficulties needs extra support as tasks get longer and more complex.


  • Break tasks into smaller chunks. One task at a time is best, if possible.
  • Reduce the amount of material.
  • Keep new information or instructions brief and to the point, and repeat in concise fashion for the student, as needed.
  • Provide written directions for reference.
  • Simplify the amount of mental processing required by providing several oral “clues” for a problem and writing key words for each clue on the board or interactive whiteboard.
  • Increase the meaningfulness of the material by providing examples students can relate to.
  • Provide information in multiple ways: speak it, show it, and create opportunities to physically work with it or model it.
  • Develop routines, such as specific procedures for turning in completed assignments. Practice procedures until they become automatic.
  • Have students repeat information.
  • Use visual reminders of the steps needed to complete a task.
  • Provide opportunities to repeat the task.
  • Encourage practice to increase the amount of information encoded into memory.
  • Teach students to practice in short sessions, repeatedly throughout the day. Spaced practice is more effective than massed practice. Have students practice new skills or information in short sessions over the course of the day rather than in one long session. For example, give the student a set of key facts to review for a few minutes two or three times during the school day, and encourage them to review again at home both at night and in the morning.


  • Use advance organizers and teach students how to use them. This tool activates prior knowledge, helps generate questions to explore and then assists students to connect what they learn to what they already know.
  • Introduce one strategy at a time in brief, focused sessions.
  • Be clear about when, where, why and how to use the strategy.
  • Review and activate prior knowledge.
  • Be overt and explicit.
  • Model and think aloud.
  • Have skilled students model steps.
  • Encourage use and practice.
  • Evaluate and recognize effort and success.
  • Encourage self-monitoring.
  • Promote transfer to other situations, times, activities and groups.
  • Use visual posters, e.g. of multiplication tables.
  • Create posters of commonly used words.
  • Provide instructions in written form – could be a handout, whiteboard, or simply a sticky note.
  • Provide a key word outline to refer to while you are teaching.
  • Encourage the use of checklists for multi-step tasks (e.g., steps for editing written work, timelines for assignments).
  • Encourage students to make lists of reminders regularly.
  • Use graphic organizers to teach new concepts and information.
  • Consider educational technology that reduces the demand on working memory, such as calculators, word processors, spell-check devices, grammar-check devices, and voice dictation and text readers.
  • Use rhymes, songs, movements and patterns, such as ’30 days hath September’ rhyme for remembering the number of days in each calendar month. Music and physical routines linked to fact learning can help students memorize faster and act as a cue for retrieving specific information.
  • Stop at least two times per lesson and request a quick summary from students – “what have we learned so far?” – followed by quick notes on the board.
  • Request students to paraphrase, or have another student paraphrase verbally delivered directions. Research has repeatedly shown that youth are more likely to “hear” and “remember” if they hear their own voice or a peer’s voice.
  • Allow time for rehearsal and processing.
  • Allow extra time for the student to retrieve information.
  • Avoid open-ended questions


  • Active participation with the material such as repeatedly hearing it, seeing it and moving it, holds the information in working memory so it can move to long-term memory.
  • Wherever possible, use games such as Jeopardy® and Scrabble®, drama and art to reinforce concepts.
  • Color coding different subject areas can trigger students to remember information.
  • Spelling – highlight difficult parts of new words.
  • Vocabulary – teach new words in categories or families and colour code the categories.
  • Encourage the use of coloured pens or highlighters (remember, yellow is the LEAST effective).
  • Try to get the students to link new information to prior knowledge – encourage drawing, writing and verbal reflection.
  • Start each lesson with a quick review of the previous lesson – always write down key words as the students recall information to model “trigger words”.
  • Review each lesson with a summary of what was learned.
  • Teach students to listen for key words. Post the words in the classroom and frequently use them as cues while you teach.
  • Often students with working memory difficulties also exhibit word and information retrieval difficulties. They frequently experience the “tip of the tongue” phenomenon, or may produce the wrong details within the correct concept. The student may need additional time to retrieve details when answering a question. Cues may be necessary to help them focus on the correct bit of information or word.


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