Helping students remember what they learn (Part two)

Helping Students Remember What They Learn: An Intervention for Teachers and School Psychologists (part 2 of 2)

As an educational psychologist working in Hong Kong I continue to look for ways to help children learn better when consulting with teachers. This is particularly relevant for children that have ADHD, dyslexia and other developmental difficulties. The following is part two in a series on a technique for helping children remember what they learn (incremental rehearsal,IR or are call John’s coming on my).

IR is implemented by writing known and unknown items on flashcards. The unknown items are words, letter sounds, math facts, or anything that has to be memorized. The known items should be words, letter sounds, math facts, and other items for which the student gives the correct response within 2 seconds of showing them the card. Here are the steps for using IR:

  1. Start by going through all of the known items to be certain that the student can respond to each one of them correctly within 2 seconds.
  2. Show the student the fact (e.g., sight word, letter sound, multiplication fact) and give the answer to the student. For example, you might say, “This is the letter s, and it makes the /sssss/ sound,” or “This is 4 × 4 and it equals 16,” or “This word is occupy.”
  3. Show the card and ask the student to provide the correct response. If the response is incorrect, then read the card, model the correct response, and then ask the student for the response.
  4. An extra step is added when teaching words. After the student can correctly state the word on the card, ask the student to use the word in a sentence. If the student uses the word in a sentence correctly, then proceed. If the student does not use the word in a sentence, provide a succinct definition, use the word in a sentence, and then ask the student to provide a different sentence with the word. After the student correctly uses the word in a sentence, then proceed.
  5. After the student provides the correct response to the card, then the new fact is rehearsed with the sequence outlined in Figure 1.

While IR is typically used with flash cards, it is the sequence of presentation that provides the power of the strategy. Any form of presentation can be used so long as the order is maintained. For example, we often use a simple pointer (e.g., finger) when learning new words in a reading assignment. The sequence is followed by simply pointing to the word, rather than by presenting it on a flashcard.

IR is a well-researched flashcard intervention that has consistently been shown to be more effective than all other flashcard approaches and at least as efficient. However, it is not the appropriate intervention for all students. Flashcard interventions are best for items that just need to be memorized. Teachers could start with traditional drill approaches with 100% new items because it only requires 3 to 5 minutes, and use IR if the first flashcard technique does not work; or start with IR if the information is important enough to emphasize high retention or the student had demonstrated difficulty remembering what they previously learned. Either way, IR can be used by teachers and others to help students who struggle with learning reading and mathematics, or who consistently do not remember what they have been taught.


For More Information

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Burns, M. K., & Sterling-Turner, H. (2010). Comparison of efficiency measures for academic interventions based on acquisition and maintenance of the skill. Psychology in the Schools, 47, 126–134.