Is Memorization a Necessary Skill Anymore?

In school, memorization was the key to success.  I needed to memorize the states and their capitals so that I could accurately label them on a blank map.  I needed to memorize my spelling words so that I could spell them correctly.  I needed to memorize the parts of a cell so that I could label a diagram.  I’m still wondering when I will need to recall this information.  While being knowledgeable is an important life skill, is memorizing stuff necessary?  If I want to know the parts of a cell, I can Google that.  If I need to learn about the states and capitals, I can go online to find the answer.  In this day of instant gratification thanks in part to technology, I wonder if memorization is still a necessary academic skill.  Do our students need to be able to memorize information?  What’s the purpose?

While I do not believe our students need to be able to memorize information, I do know that teachers in other grades expect the students to have that skill under their belt.  Therefore, every year in the sixth grade, we spend a week or so having the students practice the skill of memorization.  We tie it in directly with what the students are learning in their study skills class about the brain and how to effectively prepare for a test or assessment.  This way, they are learning two vital skills at once.

Today in Humanities class, the students reviewed the counties of NH to practice for Tuesday’s test.  We discussed some memorization strategies with the students today before they began reviewing and working on their BRAIN (Break it Down, Review and Repeat, Active Learning, Information Search, Never Give Up) Plan.  We talked about chunking the material, creating associations with the content being learned, and repetition.  The students then utilized a memorization strategy to practice preparing for Tuesday’s test on the 10 counties of NH.

Not only are they learning the skill of memorization, they are also learning how to effectively prepare for a test.  While we don’t have many formal tests in the sixth grade, they will see numerous tests in their future.  Knowing how to prepare successfully for assessments and being aware of what strategies work best for them is important.  They will be one-step ahead of other students who did not have this opportunity.  So, while I don’t feel that we need to be teaching the skill of memorization anymore in schools, I know what some of my colleagues expect of students in the higher grades.  Rather than ignore that information, I want to support and prepare my students the best way possible.


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