29 April 2010 02:40 PM

Why Memorization Helps Kids to Learn

by Dr. Rick

I cheated in English class.  I’m not proud of this, but I was only sixteen-years-old and a bit rebellious against my eleventh-grade English teacher, “Mrs. Berg.”  She was – how to put this? – not very bright.


She made us memorize poetry.  We were to memorize one hundred lines of poetry each semester.  We could break them down into small chunks.  We’d recite to her what we’d memorized that week, she’d write down the number of lines (but never the poem’s title), and add them up at report card time.


I memorized “Fire and Ice,” by Robert Frost.  It’s nine lines.  Since she never wrote the name of the poem we memorized, I just went, week after week, to her desk and recited “Fire and Ice” to her.  By the end of the semester, I had my quota-plus-some safely in her grade book.  I guess it never struck her as odd that all my poems were nine lines long.


Shame on me.


Now that I’m a long-time teacher, I’ve come to recognize the power of memorization.  Mrs. Berg may not have been very good at teaching, but her heart was in the right place.  Memorization has definite merits even if it’s not as popular or highly regarded as it once was.  It may be an ancient skill, but it’s definitely not archaic.


Here are some thoughts about why a bit of memorization can be good for kids.

  1. It helps with language skills.  When kids memorize poetry, lyrics, prayers, favorite passages from books or speeches, they gain a familiarity and mastery of our language’s rhythms, cadences, and astonishing vocabulary.  That’s why children love nursery rhymes and Dr. Seuss books – for the joyful sounds and tempo.

  2. It teaches organization.  When kids memorize anything – a part in a play, the steps in long division, the words to a song for a school concert, the summary of their science fair project – they learn the technique of breaking up a large task into smaller, manageable parts.  This is a useful lesson they’ll use all their lives.

  3. It builds the “mental muscle.”  When kids build a mental treasury of interesting, beloved, sustaining material like poems, devotions, and song lyrics, they’re exercising their brains.  Nothing wrong with that.

  4. It helps “cement” information in the brain.  Kids who don’t master their math facts by the end of grade four are far more likely to end up in remedial classes than their memorizing classmates.  Memorized material stays with us longer.

  5. It enables other mental skills.  As kids memorize occasionally, they learn visualization, association, rhyming, repetition, and reviewing skills. They enhance their reading and observing skills, too, as their brains actively work.  All of these skills will help them as they continue learning.

I’m not saying that all learning should be “rote,” but I am saying that the occasional memorizing of beloved words, helpful facts, or inspirational thoughts can add to a person’s education and encourage further learning and confidence.  A little memorization now and then – a small part in a play, memory games, a favorite family poem – can’t hurt.  I wish I had more poetry in my aging brain now than those nine lines of “Fire and Ice.”


No offense, Mr. Frost.  Or Mrs. Berg.




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