Making Memory Work Connect with Meaning

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Rote memory has a bad rep.  Reputation that is.  Maybe we have bad memories from school of being “forced” to memorize things.

Yet so much of learning is memorizing.  And memorizing doesn’t have to be a chore.  It can be fun and meaningful.

So, as you are starting off the school year, putting all this memory work before your child, how can you help them connect meaning with all those facts?


The memory work that we use with Classical Conversations is all about building vocabulary.  Students are exposed to many, many ideas, facts, names, places, etc and this will build the vocabulary.

Some may argue that the words are just memorized and there are no meaning behind the words.  If this is the case, then we are not doing the program right.  We don’t have to explain things that are over their heads at this developmental stage, but we can implement a few simple strategies to give context or meaning to the words that our children are memorizing.

1. Use sign language or motions. 

Whenever possible, use motions that have meaning related to the memory work.  My first time through CC, I learned so much from the motions of the timeline.

For example, “Benedict and Monasticism.”  What does that mean?  The motion for that piece of the timeline is to act like you are putting on a hood from your cloak like a monk would do.  Oh, connection moment for me – Monasticism is referring to the time of the monks in the middle ages and I do know a little bit about that, enough anyway for teaching my young kids.

Timeline Motions Sign Language Guide 

Another example from timeline – we move our hands around our faces in an “O” shape for Olmecs of Mesoamerica.  This helps us remember that the Olmecs (that start with O) are known for the large face rock statues.

In this way, sign language is serving several purposes:

  • physical motion – helps those who learn better with movement
  • visual – this is a simple way to create a visual (no book or paper or screen needed!) for those who are visual learners.  They can “see” the words with their movements.
  • aids memory by making connections with the meaning – a minimal explanation of why that motion was chosen helps to connect the words with meaning

Using Sign Language to Teach

2. Get Books on the Subject

I use the library a lot.  I like looking at the book lists that others are reading, but realistically, I can’t read them all and our library does not have many of them.

I try to find a few short books on the science and history and sometimes other subjects.  We use these to give context and visuals to the memory work.  We pick a few longer books to read over the course of the semester, but certainly not every week (at least with younger learners).

What I’m Using for Cycle 1 

I have invested in the apologia science books that we use as reference.  We can pull out the various books to dive in deeper into the science memory work.

3. Do Projects

This is something we don’t do for every week, but we do for major concepts.

Some example projects:

Geography poster – where we connected history, geography and timeline.


Drawing about science or history.  We like the Draw * Write * Now books for that.

Making models – last semester it was drawing atoms or making them on coffee filters.  This semester it will be making or drawing a model of an animal and plant cell.

4. Applying the Memory Work in a Real Context

This method I use for Latin, Grammar, and Math.

So, for Latin, we will be putting the endings on real Latin words and declining them.


For Grammar, last semester we put all those verb principle parts into sentences so we could understand what those lists mean.  (By the way, only two weeks into Challenge Latin and we are seeing why we need to understand the verb principle parts.)

For younger learners, I point out the grammar concepts as we are reading books.  When reading a Dr. Seuss book, point out the infinitives or the linking verbs (Green Eggs and Ham is full of them).  For older students, applications of the grammar will be made in the Essentials grammar and writing course.

For math, let them apply the math they are learning with manipulatives.

5. Add Additional Memory Work

Don’t make this too complicated or overthink it, but you can add a bit more context for your students and have them memorize that.

For example, when we were learning the human body in the first part of cycle 3, we began as a family memorizing the bones of the body.

Building Vocabulary


This year for science, you could memorize the parts of the animal cell, but you could also memorize the functions.   This might take a bit of research or effort from mom, but it does not have to be complicated.

For my own kids, this year, we will memorize the parts of the animal cell and their functions.  That same week in Essentials, students are learning to diagram simple sentences that are S-Vi.  That means it is a subject and a verb.  So, I took the animal parts such as “golgi boddies” and made that the subject.  What action do the golgi bodies do?  Package.  So, we are going to memorize and diagram that short sentence and hopefully, make lots of connections.

If that sort of science/grammar connection sounds interesting to you, check out the Worksheets I have created to help you and your students out – Week by Week following the science and Essentials guide.

grammarsciencelogo     GUIDE to SUPPLEMENTING ESSENTIALS



Keep it simple, but make that little bit of effort to intentionally make connections.  This is a great investment in your time and will pay off huge dividends in the future!!

Follow me on facebook – on my private group for Cycle 1 Resources and subscribe below for the email list, so that you won’t miss out updates throughout the semester.

I do hope to shortly give you some tangible examples of sign language to help that memory work stick and provide meaning for you and your students as well as to add some science and scripture downloads to connect with Essentials!!



  1. Reply

    That’s really great! Being a Challenge I student, I can tell you that what you’re doing now (as well as the extras) will help you a ton with Challenge A!

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