Remembering What We Learn: Retrieval Practice

Retrieval practice is an active learning technique that involves recalling information from memory. Research has shown that retrieval practice is an effective way to improve long-term memory retention.

Retrieval practice can be a valuable tool for literacy learning. It can improve reading comprehension, vocabulary acquisition and writing skills.

“Retrieval practice improves the efficiency of learning; making and using flashcards, concept maps, or any of the other retrieval practice methods will facilitate better learning than highlighting or re-reading.” – Becton Loveless

There are various methods you can use to incorporate retrieval practice into your literacy teaching. Testing is perhaps the most recognized form of retrieval practice. However, it can also include flashcards, writing prompts, concept maps, cloze passages, low-stakes quizzes and many more. Select the methods that best suit your lesson and learner. This short video offers a good explanation of retrieval practice.

Reading Comprehension

Literacy learners can use retrieval practice to actively engage with the material and improve reading comprehension.

For example, after reading a passage, learners can try to recall the main idea, important details and key concepts from memory. This process not only helps students remember the information better, but it also helps them identify any gaps in their understanding.

Cloze procedure, or cloze reading, is a great example of retrieval practice for reading comprehension. A cloze reading uses a passage of text where words have been omitted in a systematic fashion. Learners insert the missing words from memory or make use of context clues.


Retrieval practice can be used to enhance vocabulary acquisition by having students recall definitions, synonyms and antonyms of words they have learned. Flashcards can be a good tool for this type of retrieval practice. This process not only helps reinforce their understanding of the words but also helps learners integrate new vocabulary into their long-term memory.


Learners can improve their writing skills by practicing recalling important details and concepts from memory before they start writing. Before writing, learners can try to recall key points they want to make, supporting evidence they want to use and think about the structure of their writing. Writing prompts can also help with recall.

“Easy learning leads to easy forgetting. Stop cramming, reviewing, and re-teaching. Instead, simply ask students what they remember.” –

Just like exercising our muscles, improvement and progress can come with some struggle and pain. But by using retrieval practice to “work out” our long-term memory, literacy learners can develop the skills they need to become more effective readers, writers and communicators.


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