Teachers’ Corner: What Should I Do if My Students Have Poor Phonological Memory?

What is Phonological Memory?

Weak Phonological Memory leads to frustration in the classroom.Phonological memory is the ability to hold information (numbers, sounds, words) in working or short-term memory for temporary storage. Students must be able to hold information long enough to process it, use it, and then transfer it to long-term memory.

Why Poor Phonological Memory is a Problem

Poor phonological memory can hinder a student’s ability to accomplish most tasks including:

  • mastering early reading skills
  • learning new vocabulary words
  • comprehending new and lengthy material
  • following multi-step directions

For example, when decoding an unfamiliar but lengthy word, a student must figure out each sound and then each syllable. The student must recall these word components in exact sequence, and finally, blend them back together.  The longer the word, the more parts there are to remember. Children often have to rehearse each syllable first until they know it well enough to blend all of the syllables together to complete the entire word.

If a child with poor phonological memory is hearing new words as someone is talking, the speaker may be well into the rest of the message while the child is stuck making sense of the new word.  Or, the child may miss the new word as he or she tries to keep up with the story/message. Either way, vocabulary development is at risk.

How to Help a Child with Poor Phonological Memory

Helping a child with weak phonological memory to be successful in the classroom requires us to be mindful of the following:

  • how much information we deliver at one time
  • what senses we engage when delivering and reinforcing information
  • how often we repeat key ideas

C.A.R.S.:  Remember this mnemonic and your students will be off and running!

CARS -- A Phonological Memory Reminder.Chunk Information into smaller parts for mental storage.  Only introduce one or two concepts at a time and pause strategically when talking.

Allow for Success by teaching, modeling and practicing (and practicing some more!). Practice skills in different contexts to reinforce.

Repeat, Repeat, Repeat!  Restate key elements or new information in various ways.  Have students repeat back to you.  Use purposeful pausing as you repeat.

Sensory: make lessons multisensory!  Children with poor auditory memories need to SEE, ACT OUT, and FEEL the lesson in order to understand better. Their weakest mode of learning is by sitting and listening.