Brain-based Research:
Strengthening Learning and Memory

Sarah Lynn 2013.1.1 Sarah Lynn

“If you’re just engaging in mechanical repetition,
it’s true, you quickly hit the limit of what you can retain.
However, if you practice elaboration,
there’s no known limit to how much you can learn.”
~ Brown, Roediger, McDaniel (2014)

Elaboration is essential for you to commit new learning to memory. Elaboration is when you explain new information in your own words. Once you begin to add examples and details, or make connections to other experiences and knowledge, you are enriching the new learning and making it more memorable and more  transferrable to new contexts.

Thinking Please wait

Elaboration involves the thinking strategies of paraphrasing, summarizing, creating analogies, answering questions, and describing connections. Elaboration activates the frontal lobe of your brain and brings your new learning to a higher level of awareness and articulation.

Let’s learn something new, and then practice elaboration.
1. New Information:

  • The Spanish word sobremesa has no equivalent in English.
  • Sobremesa literally translated means on the table.
  • Definition of sobremesa: the time spent after a meal when people linger at the table to talk.In Spain the sobremesa phase of a holiday meal can last for hours.
  • Example sentence: The most important part of the day for my family is the sobremesa because we just slow down for a bit and talk about what is going on in our lives.

2. Elaboration:

  • Retell: In your own words what does sobremesa mean? Where and when does sobremesa happen?
  • Connect to your life: Do you have a sobremesa after meals in your home? If so, how long does the sobremesa last? If not, do you think you would like the tradition of the sobremesa in your home? Why? Why not?
  • Connect to other knowledge: Why do you think sobremesa is a Spanish word and not an English word? What does it tell you about Spanish culture?

Elaboration is a low prep and very effective way for teachers to get students to practice and enhance their learning. It can take many forms: It can be done individually, in pairs, or in groups. Simple ESOL elaboration activities are: explaining material to a recently absent classmate; relating new material to situations in one’s own life; writing an outline or summary of the new learning; organizing the new learning in a graphic organizer; or applying the material to a new context in a role play.

The key to elaboration is that the student does the work. The student must make the effort to make meaning and add layers of experience and thought to new information for the new knowledge to be long lasting and transferable. To achieve elaboration, you must restrain yourself from too much teacher-talk.

Brain-based Classroom Activities: Elaboration
End of Class Reflection: What did you learn in class today?

  • At the end of each class, have students put away their notes and books and for five minutes write on a separate piece everything they learned in class.
  • After five minutes of writing, have students look at their class notes. What did they remember? What did they forget? Have students write the material they forgot in a different color on their papers.
  • Then ask, What is most important to you? Why? When will you use it?

Retell and Reconstruct

  • After reading a text or listening to a conversation, have students retell the information in pairs.
  • Then have them work individually to reconstruct the text/conversation in writing.
  • Have students read the text or listen to the conversation one more time (with their pencils down).
  • Have them write any corrections or new details into the text in a different colored ink.

Mark the Margins
Have students review their class notes at the end of class and mark their notes with the following symbols:
✔I understand.
? I don’t understand.
+ I want to practice more.
Before leaving class, have students write on a paper and hand in to you:

  • Something they learned.
  • One question they have.
  • One thing they want to practice more.