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Student Learning Styles: What Is Episodic Memory?

How do we make memories?

There are many explanations for how memory works. Memory, however, is much more complicated than any one theory can explain. I have blogged before about memory strategies as well as several times about what working memory is.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about a type of memory we don’t hear much about. It’s called episodic memory. Episodic memory is the memory we have for events (or episodes) we experience. Some of the students I teach have trouble remembering facts, vocabulary, and procedures, like how to do long division. Yet, these same students can remember accurate details about a trip they took a whole year ago! They love field trips, movies, and activities that involve building or doing something. These students have a strong episodic memory. They remember what the class was doing when they were learning something. If this is true about your child, you may be able to help him learn more effectively at school by creating episodic memories.

To do this, you have to figure out how to get children to experience what they are learning. For example, instead of studying for a science test in a traditional way, your child can make up a song, rap, or creative story about the concepts. I recently had a student create a dance with music that included all the vocabulary on his upcoming exam. He received an “A” on it! He did not normally do well on tests and exams, so I asked him how he studied. He stood up and sang and danced for me! This isn’t something I would have ever done to study; that’s why memory is a complex process that we really do not fully understand.

Other things you might try are having your child make a movie, create a skit, write poetry, or paint a picture. I believe the trick for those who have strengths in episodic memory is to make something the student can tell a story about. And remember that what works for one may not work for another.

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