The Power (and Fun) of Retrieval Practice Games

This is the third post in a short series on small but fierce tools that can boost your writing instruction without reshaping your whole curriculum. For the original entry, click here.

One of my favorite topics to teach my students about is the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve (for more on it, click here), which lays out a clear case that our brains are designed to forget, not remember, most things. This is the kind of foundational brain science that should come in a user’s manual for our brains that we receive at birth, but since such a thing doesn’t exist, I make it a point to discuss it in pretty much every class. I do this because once we understand why we forget (and how normal and natural it is), it becomes easier to devise strategies to remember the things that really matter.

The core strategy that Ebbinghaus gives us when it comes to improving our memory is strikingly easy: If we want to remember something, we should revisit it multiple times on multiple different days. This importance of revisiting topics when it comes to encoding something into long-term memory lies behind so many of the things I do. It is why my students use feedback cycles where they revisit feedback from me at least four or five times and why when we set student goals, we return to them weekly. It is also why in these newly cold, middle-of-the-semester weeks in early November that I turn over and over to one particular tool: Retrieval practice.

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