Retrieval Structure Manipulations
Retrieval structures are best suited to information that must be remembered perfectly. It is often the case that retrieval structure manipulations register information more effectively than do attention, rehearsal, attribute, and association manipulations, each of which is described in the Memory page of the General-Purpose Learning Strategies main stack.
There are four types of retrieval structures, each of which varies in applicability and ease of application: elaboration manipulations, reduction manipulations, transformation manipulations, and technical manipulations. Manipulations may involve a combination of methods from these categories. Much of this information comes from Herrmann, Raybeck and Gutman (1993).
Elaboration manipulations are among the easiest to use. These structures build on the information to be remembered by combining it with additional information. The additional information provides a code that enhances remembering. Because of this, the elaboration structure itself must be remembered completely in order for the manipulation to be effective. In addition to the elaboration manipulations described below, several elaboration manipulations are described in the Memory page of the General-Purpose Learning Strategies main stack: rhymes, songs and poems, name associations, visual imagery (visual association), and mnemonics. The latter two are also discussed elsewhere in this page.
- This type of manipulation is similar to the FIRST mnemonic strategy described elsewhere in this page.
- A short poem or verse is made by using each letter in the new item to form a word that describes the item.
- For example, to remember Bill's name, elaborate by saying that Bill is a Big Interesting Likeable Lug.
Ad Hoc Manipulations
- The ad hoc manipulation makes use of limericks or poems.
- There are published compilations of common ad hoc manipulations used to remember certain information (e.g. Pugh, 1970).
- For example, "Columbus sailed the ocean blue, In fourteen-hundred and ninety-two."
Verbal Mediation Manipulations
- Link the item with a word that has an established association with the item.
- For example, to remember that Bill pitches a good curve ball, associate a baseball with round with curve.
- Image elaborations may take four forms.
- Color manipulations involve picturing the item to be remembered in one color against a background of a different color. For example, to remember a neuron, picture it in a neutral color against a red background.
- Color with affect manipulations involve picturing the item in a color that symbolizes your feelings or emotions about the item. For example, to remember an item you dislike, picture it in red.
- Graphic manipulations involves mentally picturing the letters of the word to be remembered. For example, to remember a person's name, picture the letters in your mind.
- Visual integration manipulations involves elaborating an item into a visual image. For example, to remember the name "Deng Xiao-ping," picture a bullet hitting a bell ("ding"), a bullet bursting a balloon ("pow"), and a bullet hitting a wall ("ping").
- Use common numerical configurations (phone numbers, currency, years, zip codes, etc.) to remember numbers.
- For example, to remember the percentages of nitrogen and oxygen in the atmosphere, 78% and 22%, write them as currency $78.22.
- Look for and describe a pattern or regularity in the new material.
- For example, after attending a play, state whether it was a comedy or a tragedy.
- Make the item to be remembered as humorous or ridiculous as possible.
- Try turning the item into a funny name or a pun. For example, "Fred-schmed" or "Smithie-withie."
- Use the new information as part of a factual or a false sentence.
- A true sentence is useful for associating related items.
- A false sentence should be made blatantly false in order to avoid confusion with facts.
- For example, to remember a new acquaintance, elaborate a sentence like "I just met John Gates, an electrician from Cleveland."
- Make up a story that contains the new information.
- Again, it may be true or false.
- For example, "Alan Turing developed the first digital computer, the Colossus, to break Nazi codes during World War II."
Reduction retrieval structures are based on only a portion of the original information. Reduction manipulations are shorter and usually easier to remember than elaboration manipulations. However, they may be more ambiguous than elaboration methods.
- Using a few letters from the word, form a smaller word.
- For example, remember "photo" instead of the longer "photosynthesis."
- Imagine the new item in black in white.
- For example, to remember the seven wonders of the ancient world, picture them without color.
First Letter Coding
- Arrange the first letters of each item in a list into an acronym.
- This strategy is covered in the mnemonics section of this page.
- Form new words from the first letters of each item in a list.
- Put the new words into a sentence.
- This strategy is covered in the mnemonics section of this page.
- Select key words from a story or a block of text that capture the overall theme or point of the material.
- For example, text about the two types of cells might be summed up by two key words, "eukaryote" and "prokaryote."
Transformation manipulations are more difficult to use because they alter the form of the original information, although the transformed information is related to the original material. However, they may be less ambiguous than reduction methods and less lengthy than elaboration structures. Transformations are perhaps the best retrieval structures for understanding and comprehension, and therefore may be preferred in situations when information is to be understood, not simply registered.
- Replace the item to be remembered with the most appropriate, and easiest to remember, synonym.
- For example, to remember that a country is a democracy, rehearse it as a "free state" also.
- Replace the item to be remembered with an appropriate anonym.
- For example, to remember that a country is totalitarian, rehearse it as "not a free state" as well.
- Associate the item with words that are in the same class or category as the item.
- For example, to remember that a country is a democracy, rehearse its name with other democracies like Canada and United States.
- Associate the item with words that sound like it.
- For example, to remember that a country is a dictatorship, rehearse the country's name along with "dictate or ship."
- This strategy uses combinations of the four other transformations to reflect all the possible relationships and sounds of the information to be learned.
Technical manipulations, which are based on structures memorized ahead of time, are among the most difficult to use. They are called "technical" because the require prior preparation and instruction. Unlike the other forms of retrieval structures, the special encoding and retrieval schemes used in technical manipulations are not related to the new material to be learned. Despite the special effort needed to use technical manipulations, they have been shown to be highly effective in improving memory performance.
- Establish links between pairs of items in an ordered or unordered list.
- Refer to the Chaining (Link System) section of the Memory page for a more complete description.
Pegs or Peg Words
- Pegs can be alphabetical, verbal or pictoral.
- The pegs stand for numbers in a list (e.g. 1 = sun, 2 = shoe, etc.).
- Pegs are used to trigger associations with the actual items in the list.
- See the Pegwords section of the Memory page for a more complete description.
Loci or House of Memory
- To remember a list of items, imagine a familiar building and place one item from the list in each of the rooms.
- Your "house of memory" can be a home, church, office building, a town, or a landscape, as long as the locus is easy to remember and visualize.
- While mental images of the memory loci are sufficient, the student may wish to sketch the loci and associated items.
- An examle of a house of memory for encoding and retrieving the Hindu pantheon is given below.
- Numbers and letters are converted using a predetermined scheme:
- 1 = t, d or th
- 2 = n
- 3 = m
- 4 = r
- 5 = l
- 6 = g
- 7 = c, k, hard g or q
- 8 = f, ph or v
- 9 = p or b
- 0 = z, s or soft c
- Vowels are not used.
- To remember a numerical item, use the coded letters to form a cue word. Add vowels to form the cue word, if necessary. For example, to remember a numeric item like the year Columbus landed in the New World, 1492, use the code letters t, r, b, and n to form the cue word "turban."
- To remember a word, use the coded numbers to form a cue number. For example, to remember the name of computer software mogul Bill Gates, form the code number 955-610.