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  • Writer's pictureBeth Morrant

Why won’t they RETAIN anything?

Updated: Dec 20, 2021

You know the children who don't seem to retain anything, despite you teaching it over and over again?

Or the pupil who loses their trail of thought easily and doesn't manage to get much written down in their workbook.

Maybe you have a small number of students in your 'lower ability' group who struggle with picking up new skills ideas or topics.

They might have a difficulty with memory.

One of the key areas I work in as a Speech and Language Therapist is memory. This surprises lots of people as many people immediately think about speech sounds (which really is a biggie for me) or specific conditions like Autism of Cleft Palate, but in all my time as a mainstream schools Speech Therapist, this area would pop up multiple times per week across my caseload. Lots of the assessments we use identify issues with memory and processing skills and this area of need features throughout all age groups.

Terminology explained:

Memory involves being able to hold information in our heads while we process it.

Processing skills’ involve being able to remember and repeat back or recall what we have heard, read, seen or experienced.

Auditory memory’ refers to information that we have just heard. This can be instructions, stories, songs, information, comments, etc.

Some children find it difficult to process language. It can be a challenge for them to remember longer pieces of information (this may only be a sentence) and they can't hold the words in their heads while they 'process' it to pick out the key words, decipher whether it is an instruction or statement, and decide how to respond.

A spotlight on different age groups:

Preschool-aged children can have difficulty with remembering instructions if they are too long or have too many words.

Consider this instruction: “it’s time to tidy away your activity, go and wash your hands and sit down for snack”. There are 3 parts to this sentence:

1. Tidy away your activity

2. Go and wash your hands

3. Sit down for snack

It’s likely that the child will just head straight over to the snack table with out doing the first two parts. This is because they have found it hard to remember and process the whole instruction (and they are probably motivated by the food part of snack time).

Children in a primary school may have difficulty with listening to stories or can lose focus during assembly time because they just can’t retain all of the information. I’m sure you can think of a child in your class who doesn’t seem to retain anything, despite you teaching it over and over again.

In a secondary school this might look like a pupil who loses their trail of thought easily or they may not manage to get much written down in their workbooks. They could struggle to pick up new topics easily and are in the lower ability group. They rarely put their hand up in class and shy away from class presentations.

Red Flags:

Here are some things to look out for in your school or setting where the pupil or child:

🚩 Only follows first or last part of instruction.

🚩 Needs extra processing time following a spoken instruction.

🚩 Is struggling academically, in lower ability groups.

🚩 Doesn’t seem to retain the things you've taught them.

🚩 Forgets what has been said to them or what they are saying.

🚩 Has trouble understanding new ideas or topics. Can be disengaged during lesson times.

🚩 Struggles with maths and is unable to pick up new skills e.g. fractions or concepts like ‘halving’.

🚩 Reading comprehension tasks are challenging. They have trouble understanding or identifying the main idea of what they have just read.

🚩 Is unable to explain what they have read or talk about the characters’ actions/feelings.

How can you help?

I’ve recently updated my online CPD training course on Memory and Processing.

It’s all pre-recorded and available immediately via my website, no waiting around for start dates or needing to find cover for your class. You can learn how to support children of all ages who have difficulty retaining and processing spoken information, with unlimited access to the course material.

This 50 mins (approx.) short-course is packed with theory and practical activities for you to do with individual or groups of children. I’ve created it for staff in any education setting, working with children of any age. It’s even suitable for parents as there are lots of strategies and games that can be done at home.

There are BONUS downloads for you too!

  • A checklist to help you identify areas of need for children in your setting.

  • Example sentences for some of the games and interventions.

  • Printable handouts of the strategies for adults/staff and more strategies for children/pupils.

  • A printable record sheet for you to written down and keep track of your interventions.

You can find out more by clicking the link above or click here.

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