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Memorization Without Pain

Picture of Susan Wise Bauer
Susan Wise Bauer

Elementary children have an immense capacity to memorize without realizing that they’re doing it. For children in grades 1-4, try the following method for memorization: Divide the selection to be memorized into chunks of 8-10 lines. Once every school day, ask the child to read the first chunk four times out loud; in our house, the child reads it once to Mom (to make sure the words are pronounced properly), once to the fish, once to a younger sibling, and once to whatever other adults are on the premises (Susan sometimes uses this as a break activity, since the boys often end up running outside to read their chunk of text to Grammy in the garden or Daddy out at the sawmill).

If this is done every day faithfully, most children will learn their 8-10 line chunk in a week. On Friday, ask the child to see how far he can get from memory. Most children will be startled to find that they know the whole assignment by heart!

The next week, assign the child the next “chunk” of text. Ask her to read the first part of the assignment (the previous week’s chunk of text) once, and then the new text four times. Do this every day.

On Friday, ask the child once again to try the whole work, from the beginning. Continue on in this pattern until the entire selection is memorized. Then assign the child the duty of repeating the selection in front of the mirror until she can do it without giggling.

Now she’s ready to recite it for you, and then for other adults.

Older children often won’t memorize quite as easily. But try this: adapt the “no-pain” method of memorization by having the student repeat each line or sentence of the assignment four times, out loud. After reciting each line four times, the student should then read the entire selection out loud four times consecutively. Have her do this every day for two weeks.

In most cases, the piece will be committed to memory – without the student noticing it!

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Susan Wise Bauer

Susan Wise Bauer is an educator, writer, and historian. She is the co-author of The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home (now in its fourth edition), and the author of (among others) The Well- Educated Mind, The Story of Western Science, the Story of the World series, the History of the World series, the elementary series Writing With Ease, and the pre-rhetoric series Writing With Skill. Susan was home educated through high school and has taught all four of her children at home. She has a B.A. and M.A. in English language and literature, an M.Div., and a Ph.D. in the history of American religion from the College of William and Mary in Virginia, where she taught writing and literature for over fifteen years.

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