Executive Functions

5 Creative Memorization Techniques Using Smell, Exercise, Color

How to leverage the power of smell, exercise, sound, and color to improve students’ memory.

ADHD impairs working memory, the important executive function that allows us to store information for later recall. Students rely heavily on working memory when taking exams, completing homework, and contributing in class. They call on long-term memory as they build on their knowledge and move on to the next grade level.

When impairments impede learning, I suggest these novel memorization techniques:

1. Harnessing scents makes sense. The sense of smell is an incredibly powerful, and under-utilized, tool to aid memory recall. Stimulating the olfactory nerve produces dopamine, which the ADHD brain craves. So, when a student uses an apple-scented smencil (a scented pencil) to write the definition of “obstinate,” the association between the word and the smell will be stored in memory to be tapped later.

[Free Download: 10 Working Memory Exercises for Children with ADHD]

2. Get physical. It’s well known that physical activity improves students’ cognitive functioning.1 Exercise also stimulates dopamine, in addition to other neurohormones, which motivates students with ADHD.

3. Keep a journal. Creating a to-do list in a small notebook, kept within arm’s reach, is one of the most effective working memory aids — a place to easily record tasks, thoughts, and ideas as they come up. Another helpful idea: Post sticky notes on bathroom mirrors as reminders.

4. Rhyme in time. When words are set to music and made to rhyme, they stick in your memory as if cemented there. Give students a catchy tune to help them memorize Spanish vocabulary, multiplication facts, the 50 states, and more. If a song doesn’t fit, try making an acronym out of the information, like this one: WIDMA. When in Doubt, Make Acronyms.

5. Organize with color. Color-coding information and materials aids organization and enhances memory performance. You can use color to separate information by subject: green for math, yellow for science, and so on.

[Read: Remembering to Remember — Easing the Working-Memory Strain on Students]

Bonus! More Tips to Boost Executive Functions

  • For emotional control: Flash pass
    This academic accommodation allows an overwhelmed student to leave the classroom for five minutes, no explanation or excuses needed.
  • For organization: Bathroom mirror sticky notes
    Stick reminders on the bathroom mirror and take great satisfaction in crumpling up each note as you accomplish it.
  • For time management: Homework playlists
    Pair the dopamine-stimulating effect of music with the organizational benefits of a timer by setting up a 30-minute playlist for homework. When the music stops, the student takes a break. Play from a Bluetooth speaker, with the phone stashed away, to limit distraction.

Memorization Techniques: Next Steps

Kristin Seymour, MSN, R.N., AHCNS-BC, is a clinical nurse specialist at the Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Heart & Vascular Center in St. Louis.

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View Article Sources

1 Michael, S. L., Merlo, C. L., Basch, C. E., Wentzel, K. R., & Wechsler, H. (2015). Critical connections: health and academics. The Journal of school health, 85(11), 740–758. https://doi.org/10.1111/josh.12309