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Working Memory

What is working memory? 

Working memory temporarily stores recent events and sensory data for a period of 30 seconds to several days. It often facilitates conscious processing, examining or manipulating of information for planning, reasoning, and problem solving (Postle & Pasternak, 2010). A process known as rehearsal is where you consciously repeat information to prevent it from fading; which is essential for transferring information from working memory to long term memory.

Baddeley’s ‘Working Memory Model’ describes working memory as consisting of four components:

  1. The visuospatial sketchpad: a visual memory store.

  2. The phonological loop: processes written and spoken language.

  3. The Central executive: controls and manipulates the information these two memory stores hold.

  4. The episodic buffer: stores and integrates information from the phonological loop and the visuospatial sketchpad to create a unified memory and communicates with long term memory. (Burton, 2019)

Baddeley's 'Working Memory Model'

Why is memory important: Working memory is necessary for many day to day tasks such as following instructions, remembering directions and responding in conversation. When exposed to new information, we rely on working memory to keep the information active so that we can focus, organise and problem solve. When working memory is functioning efficiently, minimal active thought for each and every step of a tasks is required.

What are the signs that my child may have working memory difficulties? 
  • Has difficulty organising tasks that have many steps.

  • Cannot self correct mistakes during classwork.

  • Difficulty with reading, spelling and comprehension.

  • Poor listening skills.

  • Difficulty getting started independently on tasks in the classroom.

  • Taking extra time to copy from the board.

Daily activities that use working memory:

  • Reading an unknown word.

  • Paraphrasing spoken information.

  • Answering questions.

  • Organising steps or components of a task.

  • Doing math sums in your head (e.g calculating the a sum on a receipt).

  • Remembering directions.

  • Processing information and following instructions.

Strategies and Activities to improve working memory:


  • Instruction activities → listening to 2-3 instructions, repeating these back to the instructor, before completing what’s required.

  • Making activities multi-sensory → this creates more avenues for information to sink in. Activities could include a combination of visual, auditory, and touch aspects so that they’re more interactive and easier to process.

  • Problem solving games → you need to remember the rules of the game (e.g., Rush hour, tip over)

  • Reading comprehension activities → reading a small story and answering questions based on the story, to see if the child remembers what took place.

  • Active reading → read a passage or story with the child, choosing a few things that the child needs to point out (e.g., highlight all the nouns, circle all the question marks).

  • Playing games such as "Simon says" involves active listening and following instructions.

  • Memory and matching games.

  • Card games eg fish, concentration.

  • "I went to the shops and bought an apple". Then the next person repeats this and adds another item starting with a "B" then a "C" . Take turns until the alphabet is complete.

  • What's missing. Have a selection 5-10 items. Look at all items and then cover. See how many can be remembered.


  • Repetition → this is a strategy that helps the child reinstate to themselves what they need to do. This is a good strategy to use before completing an instruction or activity, as it helps the child process what they need to do.

  • Using fingers to give instructions → more ways for the child to remember what they need to do.

  • Establishing routine → helps the child remember steps or aspects of tasks they complete in the day.

  • Using a visual schedule, this can be with pictures or words.

  • Using mnemonics eg to spell Because - Big Elephants Can Always Understand Small Elephants.

  • Rhyming.

  • Using categories eg put similar things together.

  • Ensure you have the child's attention before giving instructions.

  • Break down tasks and instructions in to small manageable tasks.


Morin, A. (n.d.). 8 Working Memory Boosters.

Kid Sense. (2021). Working Memory.

Dr. McLeod, S. (2012). The Working Memory Model (Baddeley and Hitch, 1974).


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