What is Working Memory?

MeeMoOur thanks to our guest blogger Dr Richard Skelton for this fascinating article explaining what working memory is. 

Working Memory is the ability to store and process information over a short period of time. This provides children with the capacity to think and learn.

Children develop a whole range of memory and thinking abilities. Arguably the most important of all these abilities is their Working Memory.

But what is it? Children use their Working Memory when they:

  1. hold onto / store some information in their head for a short period of time (i.e. seconds), and
  2. use or process this information in some way.    

That’s why it’s called ‘working’ memory, because children aren’t just storing the information, but they are doing something with it. It’s this processing of the information that puts the Work into Working Memory.

Children use their Working Memory 100s if not 1000s of times every day. Every time they hear someone speak, try to read, do a mental maths calculation, or even have a thought, they are using their Working Memory to process the information in some way. Research continually shows that children need good levels of Working Memory to achieve success in reading, maths, comprehension, and there is even growing evidence that it is linked to their happiness! This makes sense when we think about how children learn – it isn’t a passive process, but we are constantly asking them to process and think about information. From asking them to blend and segment in phonics, to working out mental maths calculations, children need this processing capacity (Working Memory) to successfully achieve in school.

With Working Memory being so important for learning, you may be wondering how it links with ‘Intelligence’. Working Memory is a key part of intelligence tests, but it alone can predict children’s National Curriculum achievement better than a full IQ test! In fact, Working Memory is so important to learning, that some leading researchers and educators are calling it the ‘New IQ’.

A classic example of a Working Memory assessment is this: Remember these numbers: 2, 8, 3, 5, 7.  Got it?  Now, hold on to them, close your eyes and try to say them out loud… but backwards. See how you had to both store and process the information, that’s what we ask children to do in every lesson we teach.

Remember how Working Memory is both about 1) storage capacity, and 2) processing capacity. To assess these abilities in children, we can take them through two quick and simple tests. To assess their storage capacity, we can start by saying aloud a series of numbers (e.g. 2, 7, 9), and asking children to repeat them back in the same order that you said them. Start with just two numbers and add another number to the series each time they get one right. To assess their processing capacity, we do the same again, but this time ask them to say the numbers to you in backwards order.

With Working Memory being so important for learning, wouldn’t it be great if we could provide every child with the opportunity to improve this fundamental capacity and accelerate their learning across the curriculum? 

Dr Richard Skelton, Child and Educational Psychologist, creator of MeeMo.

MeeMoMeeMo is a whole-class working memory programme proven to improve working memory ability at KS2, find out more here.


Assessment, Computing and ICT, CPD, English and Literacy, Grammar, Spelling and Punctuation, Intervention and SEN, Mathematics, MeeMo, More able

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