Developing memory, concentration and organisation

In defining dyslexia we noted that children have difficulties with memory, concentration, and/or organization in time and space to different degrees.

Here are some suggestions for addressing these problems.


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Memory involves the abilities to take in information, to store it in short-, and eventually in long-term memory, and to recall it.

It is well known that many children with dyslexia have difficulties with short-term memory. For example, they may have forgotten the beginning of a sentence by the time they reach the end of it.

The techniques for visualization and the use of mind-maps that we have described for help with comprehension and composition help memorization in all contexts.

Tony Buzan and Christine Carter suggest enhancing children’s capacity to remember with the following type of exercise, which stimulates all the sensory modalities.

Imagine that you are in a favourite place which you know well.

  1. Seeing
    ‘See this place in your mind … be in this place. How clear is this place in your mind? What colours can you see? Is the scene like a good photo?’
  2. Hearing
    ‘Can you use your imagination and hear the sounds associated with this place? Can you hear the sounds of the wind in the trees? Waves on the shore? Are the sounds clear? Are they an important part of the scene?’
  3. Touch
    ‘Touch something in your imaginary place? Feel an object. Can you feel its texture, temperature, and the breeze on your skin?’
  4. Smell
    ‘Turn this place around in your mind and bring into it the scents associated with the scene (smoke rising from chimneys, the scent of the breeze, or smell of iodine from the sea)’
  5. Taste
    ‘Can you taste the salt in your mouth? If you were to eat in this place can you imagine the food, and are your digestive juices flowing?’

In other words, you should make your lessons as multisensory as possible by using films, videos, diagrams, digital images, paintings, photos, objects that can be handled or smelt or tasted, and so on to illustrate the subjects tackled.

Some children find it difficult to see the links between subjects. Make explicit links as often as possible, through direct learning. Start each lesson by first recalling what was learnt in the previous lesson. Then, give an overview of the lesson in hand and link the subject to the previous lesson and to their personal experience.

Another central principle is overlearning. This means repeating the information several times, in different ways. Then recall this the next day, the day after, two days after, a week later, and a month later.


Never forget that children with dyslexia have to make more effort and will generally need more time than their classmates. Consequently they will sometimes be incapable of keeping up with the pace of the classroom and taking notes while they are listening to you.

With your course partner, try to find at least five ways of helping children with dyslexia keep up in class and make complete notes. Then compare your ideas with ours, which are not exhaustive, below.

You can help them in all kinds of simple ways:

  • slow down when you come to a complex subject
  • divide up the lesson into smaller parts
  • read out the work to be done slowly and loudly
  • give one instruction at a time
  • put occasional gaps in your presentation (‘pausing for breath’) to allow the pupils to catch up with you
  • interrupt your lesson with a short question and answer session on what you have just taught
  • leave the notes on the board for as long as possible, marking the key-words clearly, in colour or by underlining
  • give the pupils with dyslexia the lesson plan and notes before starting to teach
  • let them use all possible means of completing gaps in their notes – sharing notes with others, recording the lesson, using a computer


With your course partner draw up a list of questions which the teacher can ask him or herself to see whether they have adapted their lesson for children with dyslexia.

Wendy Goldup, teacher trainer at Dyslexia Action, suggests the following ‘which will not only save the life of a child with dyslexia but help all the pupils’.

  • Has my presentation incorporated visual, auditory and kinaesthetic strategies? If so could he see and hear me?
  • Have I broken the material down into manageable chunks?
  • Have I linked to personal or familiar material?
  • Did I do enough varied repetitions?
  • Can I summarize the main points in a logical order, using restricted vocabulary?
  • Can the pupil tell me what he has to do?
  • Have I left him with a memory trigger to access this lesson?
  • Are the main spellings available?
  • Have I allowed him to record his work in an appropriate way?
  • Did I ensure discreet but effective support?
  • Can I grade her work positively?
  • Did we all enjoy ourselves?

There are also specific activities which can be used in the classroom to develop visual or auditory short-term memory.

To improve auditory short-term memory you can design activities in which the child needs to retain information for a short period of time while performing another task.

For instance, when working with the alphabet arc, you can give a series of letters to be remembered. You then ask the child to count up to 10 or to count down from 10 before recalling the series of letters. You can then repeat this activity with an increasing number of letters to be remembered.

Other activities involve the retention of a list of items of increasing length, for example a shopping list (‘I went to the supermarket and I bought…), a list of animals (‘I went to the zoo and I saw…’), a list of sports (‘I went to the Olympic Games and I saw …’).

In order to increase visual short-term memory, activities which involve the memorizing of an increasing number of objects displayed on a table or on a picture can be used.

To know more about further activities to improve short-term memory we advise you look at the books by Tony Buzan on memory found in Tony Buzan’s bookshop.

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