Memory palaces – the ancient idea that could be the future of history teaching?

Trying to help your students to learn all that ‘stuff’ for GCSE? Here’s a great idea from Ben Taylor (@BenTaylor_CSS) …

The memory palace technique originated in Ancient Greece and has endured down the centuries. Yet recently it has been made to seem beyond ordinary folk due to its use by Sherlock in the BBC series. Nothing could be further from the truth; it is a hugely effective technique for use in the history classroom with all ages and abilities.

The idea is that students embark upon an imaginary journey which includes several stops. It may be that each stop represents a different year, or decade, or era. At each stop the student (or the teacher) inserts a memorable image which represents a historical event. Later when the student wants to retrieve the memory he or she simply goes through the imaginary journey until they reach the memorable image.

For example, one journey might be around the school classrooms. In one classroom students are told that they must imagine the teacher’s laptop on fire (Reichstag Fire); next to it is a firefighter waving his degree certificate (the Emergency Decree). The firefighters is blowing you two kisses to give the year – 1933 (the lips form the shape of a 3 of course!)

This thought process makes it much easier for students to not only transfer information into their long term memories but crucially to find it again when needed: the essence of great learning.

For a perfect introduction see Remember, Remember by memory champion Ed Cooke or for some simple examples for the classroom see my blog www.historypalace.wordpress.com

For an excellent article about  the way in which knowledge needs to be structured and brought to life for young people and more ideas about how to do this, why not read the article “Conducting the orchestra to allow our students to hear the symphony” by Alex Ford and Richard Kennett in Teaching History 171. You can find it at www.history.org.uk

Do also follow the Historical Association @histassoc and on Facebook!

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