The Propello Press | Education Insights, Resources, and Tools

Boost Retention with These 10 Retrieval Practice Activities & Strategies

As teachers we are used to putting information into pupil’s minds and hoping very much that it stays there. When a new unit of work is taught we will often set an assessment at the end to find out how much of the key information has been retained and feel validated when our pupils do ok - ‘they’ve definitely learnt everything I taught, I’m a good teacher!’. 

And over the short term that is generally true. However, over the long term how confident are we that this remains so? 

Here is the issue: as pupils move from unit to unit, they start to forget, alarmingly rapidly, things that have been previously taught. And for teachers it can be difficult to notice this until the topic, or some kind of linked learning comes round again and we get that sinking feeling of ‘but I’ve covered this before, why don’t they remember it?’

The Forgetting Curve

The science behind ‘forgetting’ is not new. In the 1880s, Hermann Ebbinghaus ran a study on memory from which he proposed the ‘forgetting curve’. He stated that forgetting begins only 20 minutes after information is presented, with retained information halving every day until the 6th day when almost none is retained. That is, unless the information is consciously revisited. Actively revisiting the information interrupts the process of forgetting and strengthens the memory so that information becomes more deeply learnt.

What is Retrieval Practice?

Retrieval practice is just that - the practice of revisiting information to actively interrupt the forgetting curve. Recalling information deliberately, a key retrieval practice strategy, forces us to actively engage and pull our knowledge “out” and examine what we know. In class, this would take the form of asking pupils to engage in activities that bring information to mind, with the ultimate aim of moving taught information into deep memory. Crucially pupils are asked to engage with the material in an active way rather than passively learning, distinguishing retrieval practice from traditional revision. Retrieval practice should happen some time after teaching has occurred and continue over time so they may be recalling learning from a topic taught earlier in the term or even from a previous year. 

Ten Effective Retrieval Practice Activities For Your Classroom

With a full teacher workload it is ideal if retrieval practice activities are simple to prepare, quick and are fully focused on active engagement with information. So, how can you easily bring retrieval practice activities and strategies into your classroom today?

Here are 10 activities to get you started:

Mind Mapping

Activity: Create a mind map (visual diagram) of all the information you can recall about a topic. Connect related ideas with lines and arrows.
Tips: Use different colors and symbols to represent different concepts. Include keywords and phrases, but not full sentences.
Why: Mind mapping is a retrieval practice strategy that helps you to organize your thoughts and identify connections between different ideas. This can help you to better understand and remember the information.

Picture Linking

Activity: Look at two pictures from a topic and identify how they are linked. This could be because they show different aspects of the same thing, or because they show different stages of a process.
Tips: Try to come up with as many links as possible. You can also draw lines and arrows on the pictures to show the connections.
Why: Picture linking helps you to visualize and understand the information. It also helps you to make connections between different ideas, which can improve your memory.

Silly Song or Rhyme

Activity: Write a silly song or rhyme about an aspect of the topic, such as a tricky formula or definition.
Tips: Use humor and exaggeration to make the song or rhyme more memorable. You can also use music or rhythm to help you learn it.
Why: Silly songs and rhymes are a fun and engaging way to learn information. They also help to encode the information in your memory in a different way, which can make it easier to recall.

Speak Like an Expert

Activity: With a partner, speak like an expert on the topic for one minute. Take turns being the expert and the listener.
Tips: Try to explain the information in a clear and concise way. Avoid using jargon or technical terms that your partner may not understand.
Why: Expert speaking helps you to process and organize the information in your mind. It also helps you to identify any areas where you need to improve your understanding.

Keyword Explaining

Activity: Choose keywords from the topic and explain them in your own words. Write a sentence or two for each keyword, explaining what it means and why it is important.
Tips: Try to come up with your own explanations, rather than copying from a textbook or other source.
Why: Keyword explaining helps you to understand and remember the meaning of key concepts. It also helps you to identify relationships between different concepts.

Knowledge Organizer

Activity: Create your own knowledge organizer for the topic. This could be a diagram, table, or other visual representation of the information.
Tips: Use different colors and symbols to represent different concepts. Include keywords and phrases, but not full sentences.
Why: Knowledge organizers help you to organize and visualize the information. They also help you to identify the most important concepts and their relationships to each other.

Multiple Choice Questions

Activity: Write your own multiple choice questions about the topic. Include a variety of question types, such as true/false, fill-in-the-blank, and matching.
Tips: Make sure that your questions are challenging, but not so difficult that they are impossible to answer.
Why: Writing multiple choice questions helps you to identify the key concepts and their relationships to each other. It also helps you to practice answering different types of questions.


Activity: Create a mnemonic for a key fact. A mnemonic is a memory device that helps you to remember information.
Tips: Use humor, exaggeration, or other creative techniques to make the mnemonic more memorable.
Why: Mnemonics are a great way to remember difficult or obscure information. They can also be used to remember long lists of information.


Activity: Prepare flashcards with summary information about the topic. Write the keyword or concept on one side of the card, and the definition or explanation on the other side.
Tips: Use different colors and symbols on the cards to make them more visually appealing.
Why: Flashcards are a classic retrieval practice activity. They help you to test your knowledge and identify any areas where you need to improve.

TV Broadcast

Activity: Role play a TV broadcast where you apply the information to a real-life situation. You could be a news reporter, a scientist explaining a new discovery, or a teacher explaining a concept to their students.
Tips: Try to be creative and engaging in your presentation! Use different voices and expressions to bring your role play to life.
Why: Role playing helps you to better understand and apply the information. It also helps you to develop your communication skills."

As well as these ideas, of course simple questions can be asked and answered, anything that means that pupils actively engage with the information that you want them to retrieve.

How can Propello help?

Retrieval practice is built into the lesson plans at Propello, meaning that you don’t need to spend time searching for daily strategies and activities. All plans and activities at Propello are fully editable so that you can adapt, swap and change the suggested activities to reactively meet the learning needs of your pupils from day to day and plan out retrieval practice to focus on the sequence of units that you have previously taught. 

Get started with a free Propello account.

Sign up for an account in the US→
Sign up for account in the UK→