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Elaborative Rehearsal: The art of making learning stick

Memory is a key part of how we think, helping us keep and use information over time. To improve our memory, experts have found different techniques. One helpful method is called elaborative rehearsal. This technique is more than just repeating information; it involves making deeper, meaningful connections with what we’re learning. In this article, we’ll look at what elaborative rehearsal is, the ideas behind it, how to use it, and how it helps us remember things better.

What is Elaborative Rehearsal?

Elaborative rehearsal is a way of thinking that helps us remember things by connecting new information to what we already know. It’s like creating a web of ideas where everything is linked together, making it easier to understand and remember.

For example, if you’re learning about how plants grow, you might connect this new information to what you already know about plants needing sunlight. Instead of just repeating “plants need water, sunlight, and soil” over and over, you might think about how sunlight helps plants make food, how water is like a drink for the plant, and how soil provides nutrients.

This is different from Maintenance Rehearsal, which is just repeating information to keep it in your short-term memory. For instance, repeating a phone number over and over until you dial it is maintenance rehearsal. In contrast, the elaborative rehearsal would involve associating the phone number with something meaningful, like breaking it into chunks that relate to important dates or creating a story around the numbers.


Elaborative rehearsal is based on the Levels of Processing (LoP) theory, which was introduced by Fergus and Robert in 1972.  Their research showed that when people think about the meaning of information and how it relates to other knowledge, they are more likely to remember it for a long time. Elaborative rehearsal is an example of this deep processing because it uses meaningful connections to help us remember better.

Elaborative Rehearsal

How Does Elaborative Rehearsal Work?

Elaborative rehearsal helps you remember things by making meaningful connections between new information and what you already know. Here are some simple ways it works:

  1. Association:
    1. Example: If you learn a new word like “photosynthesis,” you might connect it to “photo” (light) and “synthesis” (putting together). This helps you remember that photosynthesis is how plants use light to make food.
  2. Visualization:
    1. Example: When studying the water cycle, imagine the stages in your mind: water evaporates from a lake, forms clouds, rains down, and collects again. This mental picture helps you remember the process.
  3. Self-Reference:
    1. Example: To remember a historical event, like the signing of the Declaration of Independence, think about what it would be like to be there or how it would affect your life. Making it personal helps you remember it better.
  4. Mnemonics:
    1. Example: Use simple tricks like acronyms or rhymes to remember things. For instance, “HOMES” helps you recall the Great Lakes: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior.
  5. Asking Questions:
    1. Example: When learning why leaves change color in the fall, ask yourself, “Why do they turn red or yellow?” Exploring the reasons helps you understand and remember better.

Practical Applications

Elaborative rehearsal can be used in many areas to help remember things better. Here are some simple ways it can be applied:

  1. In School:
    1. In the Classroom: Teachers can help students connect new information to things they already know. For example, when learning about a historical event, students can think about how it relates to something happening today.
    1. Studying: Students can make mind maps, summarize information in their own words, or explain concepts to a friend. These techniques help create connections and make it easier to understand and remember.
  2. Learning a New Language:
    1. Vocabulary: When learning new words, you can link them to similar words in your own language or create pictures in your mind. For example, you might remember the Spanish word “gato” (cat) by thinking of your own cat.
    1. Grammar: You can create stories or scenarios to help remember grammar rules. For example, to remember past tense, you might imagine a story about what you did yesterday.
  3. At Work:
    1. Training: Trainers can use real-life examples to help employees connect new skills to their own experiences. This makes the training more relevant and easier to remember.
    1. Learning New Tasks: When learning new tasks, try to connect them to things you already do. For example, if you’re learning new software, think about how it’s similar to software you’ve used before.
  4. Personal Growth:
    1. Hobbies: When learning a new hobby, connect new techniques to what you already know. For example, if you’re learning to play the guitar, relate the new chords to hand positions you use in other activities.
    1. Improving Memory: In daily life, make associations and visualize information to remember it better. For example, remember a new friend’s name by linking it to something you already know, like a rhyme or a characteristic.
  5. Health and Medicine:
    1. Patient Instructions: Doctors can help patients remember advice by relating it to their daily routines. For example, taking medication with meals.
    1. Medical Training: Medical students can remember information better by linking new knowledge to cases they have studied or seen in practice.

Benefits of Elaborative Rehearsal

Elaborative rehearsal has many advantages that make remembering and understanding information easier. Here are some benefits explained in simple terms:

  1. Better Memory:
    1. Explanation: You remember things longer because you make meaningful connections with the new information.
    1. Example: Instead of just memorizing a list of groceries, you might remember them by thinking about recipes you want to cook.
  2. Deeper Understanding:
    1. Explanation: You understand the material better, not just memorize it.
    1. Example: If you learn about the water cycle and understand how evaporation, condensation, and rain are connected, it makes more sense overall.
  3. Improved Problem-Solving:
    1. Explanation: Connecting new information to what you already know helps you solve problems better.
    1. Example: If you know how to fix a bicycle and learn about car mechanics, you might use your bike repair knowledge to help fix a car.
  4. Enhanced Creativity:
    1. Explanation: Making connections between different ideas can lead to new and creative solutions.
    1. Example: Learning about plant growth and thinking about urban gardening might inspire you to find creative ways to grow plants in small city spaces.
  5. Increased Motivation:
    1. Explanation: Relating new information to your own interests makes learning more fun and engaging.
    1. Example: If you love sports, learning about physics through sports examples makes it more interesting.
  6. More Efficient Learning:
    1. Explanation: You learn more effectively and don’t need to spend as much time memorizing.
    1. Example: Instead of hours of repeating facts, understanding their meanings and connections helps you learn faster.
  7. Stronger Long-Term Memory:
    1. Explanation: You can remember information even after a long time because you created strong memory links.
    1. Example: Remembering details from a book you read years ago because you related its themes to your own life.

Elaborative rehearsal is a strong way to improve memory. It works by connecting new information to things you already know, using techniques like visualizing, relating to yourself, creating memory aids, and asking questions. This helps you remember and understand better. Whether you’re in school, learning a language, at work, or studying on your own, using elaborative rehearsal helps you remember things for a long time.

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