5 Activities To Help Students Improve Their Working Memory

Bell ringers that focus on what your students need most.

This year I’ve decided I’m going to focus my bell ringer activities on building skills that I know my students need. Many of them struggle with following instructions and remembering material from day to day. So we are going to spend time each day working on activities that will help them improve their working memory.

Here are five activities using a variety of variables—letters, numbers, words, and pictures—designed to help your students improve their working memory.

school children in a circle

1. Correct Order of Things

For these activities, students need to be able to recall information in the correct order.

Variation 1: Two minute share

Pair students up and have partner #1 share three things they did that day. Partner #2 must repeat them back to Partner #1 in order. Then they switch.


Variation 2: I’m going to the…

Have your students sit in a large circle.  One student begins by saying “I’m going to the [beach, store, school, etc.] and I’m bringing [an object you would bring with you.] The next person repeats the phrase, the first item and adds an item of their own. The game continues around the circle until someone forgets an item or recalls them out of order, or until you reach your time limit.

Variation 3: Instant recall

A series of pictures, words or numbers is put up on the screen and left there for a few seconds. When they are removed, students have to remember the order of the items by saying them out loud to a partner, writing them down or drawing them. To increase the difficulty, increase the number of items and decrease the amount of time they have to look at images.

group of children

2. When Did You Last?

Borrowed from When Was the Last Time?: Questions to Exercise the Mind by Matthew Welp.

Give students questions that test their power of recall. For instance- When did you last drink lemonade/ tie your shoe/ make a paper airplane/ adjust the volume on something? etc. Students can write down their answers in their journal or talk to a partner about them. All students can answer the same question or you can provide several and they can pick. Note: this could also be a good get-to-know-you activity as well.


jumbled letters

3. Letter Unscramble

Students partner up and one person stands with their back to the board. On the board there are four sets of four letters that can form several words (for example: acer, bstu, anem.) The partner facing the board reads one set of letters to their partner. Their partner has 30 seconds to figure out what words can be made out of the letters without being able to see them.  (for example: acer= acre, care, race). Each partner does this several times. Make this harder by cutting the time down or adding more letters.

Easier variation: Use numbers instead of letters. The partner facing away from the board must they repeat the multi digit numbers in order.


cards on the table

4. Card Recall

Students pair up with a deck of cards. Partner #1 flips five cards face up and gives Partner #2 a few seconds to look at them. Then, Partner #2 then closes his or her eyes as Partner #1 removes one of the five cards. Finally, Partner #2 opens his or her eyes and has to recall which card is missing.


identical pictures

5. Spot the Difference

Put two pictures that seem identical, but have a few small differences up on the board or screen. Give students a brief period of time to find as many differences as they can.  For pictures like the one above, visit NeoK12.


What activities for building working memory have worked in your classroom? Share in the comments below.