Using Memory Strips For Success

Using Memory Strips For Success

Memory Strips

Memory strips are essential teaching tools to assist students who need support with memory recall,  organization, making good behavioural choices and using self-regulation strategies.  Memory strips can be used in the classroom and at home to reinforce routines and strategies used to regulate behaviour.  Memory strips put the student in control of their decisions and improve independence.  Typically, students who have difficulties with attention due to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Attention Deficit Disorder and Tourette Syndrome will benefit from this tool that is easy to create and put into action.  Adults and “neuro-typical” children may also benefit from using memory strips in their everyday tasks.

For children with difficulties with organization and memory recall:

Memory strips can provide visual cues for procedural steps for work completion and for improved organization.  For example, children who have difficulties starting or completing tasks may use memory strips to provide a visual checklist to guide them through steps required to complete or improve the quality of their work.  Children who have difficulties with organization can benefit from memory strips reminding them of the things they need to do.

For children with behavioural or self-regulation challenges:

Memory strips can be used to prompt appropriate behaviour choices or to provide cues to strategies that can be implemented by the student to ensure success.  Often children who have neurological differences tend toward unwanted behaviours when unsure of what they should do.  The memory strip can be a visual cue to give them positive choices and strategies during these moments and preempt the unwanted behaviour.

Here are some examples of simple memory strips I have used to effectively teach students with learning disabilities and/or neurological challenges.

Memory Strip:  Start and Finish Written Work

This strip comes from the book “Teaching the Tiger” by Marilyn P. Dornbush and Sheryl K. Pruitt, (Hope Press Inc., 2003).  It is used to remind students of basic routine information for starting and completing school work.  I have used this memory strip for my entire class, as a constant reminder.  It can be taped to a student’s desk, or posted at the front of the classroom for all.

Work Completion Memory Strips:  Neurologically Gifted

Frame 1:  Introduce yourself.  This image reminds the student write their name on the paper.

Frame 2:  The calendar image prompts the student to put the date on their paper.

Frame 3:  A large period prompt the child to check their work for proper punctuation.

Frame 4:  The capital C and lower case C prompt checking their written work for proper capitalization.


Memory Strip:  Morning Locker Routine

I created this memory strip for my organizationally challenged son.  Having profound difficulty organizing himself at school, I provided him with a memory strip that was posted inside his locker for his reference.  At the start of each day, he would follow these steps before entering the classroom.

Memory Strip Entry to Classroom:  Neurologically Gifted

Frame 1: Put your hat, mitts and scarf IN your locker.  (Especially important if you have to replace lost items frequently)

Frame 2: Hang your coat IN your locker.

Frame 3: Put on your indoor shoes.

Frame 4: Bring your agenda into class

Frame 5: Check your pant zipper (he often has his clothes on backwards too, but I wanted to keep it simple!)


Memory Strip:  Using Your Strategies

I created this memory strip for behaviour which prompts recall of strategies to help a student struggling with dysregulation.  This dysregulation may be due to suppressed tics, overwhelming stimulus, heightened emotions or even boredom.  It is typical for these types of situations to stimulate unwanted behaviour, aggression, provoking behaviour and disruption.  The strategies must be known to the student and have worked well in the past.  This particular strip was created for a grade 7 student who was profoundly challenged by Tourette Syndrome.  This memory strip was posted inside the student’s locker, and on the inside cover of his notebooks.  It proved to be very effective, and was consistent with his Behaviour Management Plan.  The memory strip provides a consistent reminder of his strategies and school behaviour expectations.

Memory Strip Positive Behaviours:  Neurologically Gifted

Frame 1:  Take a quick break outside the classroom door (1-2 minutes)  (provides an opportunity for a quick release of tics or stress).

Frame 2:  Take a walk around in the hall (provides an active release of energy).

Frame 3:  Take a time out at the office.  The student needs more time to decompress and possibly some distraction from the current situation.

Frame 4:  Say it or do it someplace else (leave here and do the tic in a safer place).  The student can choose to continue with their current behaviour but in a place where they are more comfortable and safe.

Frame 5:  Say or do something else (stay here, but change the tic).  The student can check in and choose to redirect their focus and energy.

Frame 6:  Take a time out (leave the area and go to the office for support).  The student needs to have some adult support to manage the situation.

Frame 7: Use the 3 steps to managing conflict (a process I created for schools).  The student chooses to appropriately manage the situation causing dysregulation.

Memory strips are easy to create, and should be created with the student.  All memory strips can be tailored to the specific needs of the student improving their independence and success.  The student takes ownership of the memory tool by searching online for icons that they “connect to” and pasting them into the frames.  By allowing the student to co-create the memory strip with you, they are more likely to remember and use the tool.

Consistent use of memory strips lead to these steps and skills being memorized and becoming “second nature” to the individual.  Be sure to share the strips between home and school as the student likely has the same challenges in both situations.

Memory strips give students power and confidence knowing that they can effectively use the guidance within the strip to be successful!





One of the first words we learn as children is “No”.

We learn the meaning of “No”  early in our development.  It’s a quick and easy instruction.  “No” is simple and used regularly – especially with toddlers because it is immediately effective at that age.  A stern “No”, and an action to stop the child quickly ends the behaviour that we don’t want.

The effectiveness of this strategy usually backfires for us when our child learns to parrot “No” back to us.  Often called the “terrible twos”, children start to assert their self-determination.  They learn that if “No” works on them it should work on everyone else.  From childhood, we become accustomed to hearing and giving instructions that start with “Don’t” and “Stop”.  We learn that “Don’t hit” or “Stop talking” is quick, clear and easy to comply with – but is it really?  In the long run, the “No” strategy often ends up creating more problems for us than solutions.

As parents, we often become frustrated and angry with our children because when we tell them what not to do, they quickly find something else to do that is equally undesirable.  “Stop talking” becomes singing or whispering, “Don’t hit” becomes poking or kicking.

Without clear instruction, children are often frustrated as well.   They  have followed your instruction, but now they’re in trouble for doing something else!  They have a multitude of other behaviours to choose from and feel overwhelmed, (or fearful), at the potential of further failure.  Children often prefer clear direction so that they can be successful.

In children challenged by Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD), negative language usually ensures the child will do exactly what you told them not to do.  In our home, telling our child with Oppositional Defiance Disorder to not something prompts him to do it.  Then he will quickly apologize because he was compelled to do it, and in the end, everyone feels bad.

Consider this simple example of positive and negative language for instruction.

Positive language instruction:

Think of a green monkey.

What happened?  Did you comply with the request?  You probably did and even if you didn’t, I would bet that you didn’t think of a pink elephant which is exactly what I didn’t want you to do.


Negative language instruction:

Don’t think of a pink elephant.

What happened?  In order for you to NOT think of a pink elephant you were forced to think of a pink elephant.  This is called priming and prompts the child to do something.  Unfortunately for everyone, what they end up doing is what you didn’t want to happen.


What is Positive Language?

Positive language is a strategy that can be used to direct children and works especially well with children who have oppositional tendencies.  The opposition could stem from hyperactivity and attentional challenges, Tourette Syndrome or Oppositional Defiance Disorder.  Positive Language is the use of direct language that states what you want the child to do, increasing the chance that the child will be successful.

Positive Language tells the child what they can do.  Be as specific as necessary for the child to be successful.  An example that comes to mind is the direction, “relax” – positive language but difficult to do especially if the problem is that you are not relaxed.  A more simple positive language instruction than “relax” would be “take a deep breath”, “close your eyes”, or “think of a happy moment”.

Positive Language increases the chance of a child complying with your request without providing the idea of doing what you don’t want them to do.  Instead of telling them what not to do and forcing them to hear and think about it, clearly state what you want them to do.  Remember the pink elephant example.  We don’t want to prime the child and set them up to fail.

Positive Language reinforces desired behaviours by verbalizing exactly what is desired.  Undesired behaviour is prevented and not verbalized which would inadvertently give it undue attention.  Don’t focus on the behaviour that you want the child to stop.  By giving direction about what they can do or should do, the attention stays on the desired behaviour.  Children prefer positive attention so be sure to positively reinforce their compliance with your request with praise.

Using Positive Language

Positive language instruction may be kept very simple.  It may be a clear direction stating specifically what you want the child to do.  For example, “put your pencil down”.  With negative language you would say “stop tapping your pencil” which may be met with the child breaking it or chewing on it.  In my home, with a child with Oppositional Defiance Disorder, “stop tapping your pencil” would turn into a drum solo!  “Don’t do that!”, using positive language, becomes “Please eat your dinner” or whatever else you want them to focus on.  Talking in class would be met with “Mouths closed, please.”  To regain the attention of my class, I would say “Knees under your desk, mouths closed with your eyes on me, please”.  To address running in the school hallway, I would say, “Everybody walking with your hands by your side, with one person in front of you and one behind you, please”.  Make your request as direct and simple as you need depending on the child.

Positive language instruction may be more complex.  The child may have options but is directed away from what you don’t want them to do.  For example, “you can stay in this room if you are being respectful to everyone”.  The child may choose to leave and do something else.  Be confident that the child is likely to make a good choice with what he goes on to do.  If the choice is likely to be a different undesired behaviour somewhere else, you may want to stick to a more simple use of positive language instruction.  In this example, using negative language you would have said, “stop hitting your brother” which may be met with the child then poking or making faces at his brother.  To address this behaviour using simple positive language you might say “Keep your hands to yourself, please”.  Occasionally, with challenging children I may have to make the request clearer, stating, “Please keep all your body parts to yourself”.  Fair enough – just keep it positive.

Positive Language:  Neurologically Gifted

Take some time to self-reflect on how you direct your child or students and try to add more positive language in your instruction.  We are often very pleasantly surprised by the positive responses we receive.

For information about using positive language as a strategy for coprolalia see:  Coprolalia Part 3:  Taking Action on Coprolalia