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Advice for teachers -

​Unit 3 - Area of Study 2: How do people learn and remember?​ ​

Outcome 2​

Apply biological and psychological explanations for how new information can be learnt and stored in memory, and provide biological, psychological and social explanations of a person’s inability to remember information.​

Examples of learning activities

  • use clay or playdough to make a model which demonstrates how neural plasticity and changes to connections between neurons result in memory formation
  • construct a flowchart to outline the main processes involved in memory formation that leads to learning
  • draw a diagram of the brain and mark the areas of the brain involved in learning
  • use plasticene or pipe cleaners to build a neural pathway; describe to the class the role of neurotransmitters and synapse formation in learning
  • explore mechanisms involved in learning such as synapse formation, the action of neurotransmitters, and brain plasticity as outlined in ‘Neuroscience for Kids’ ​
  • use a Venn diagram to compare long-term potentiation and long-term depression
  • divide the class into three groups and provide them with an activity that requires them to use either recall, recognition or relearning; use ‘expert groups’ to discuss the findings of their activity.
  • use a ‘compare and contrast’ visual organiser to outline the different roles of neurotransmitters and neurohormones in memory and learning, in particular the differences between the role of glutamate vs the role of adrenaline
  • formulate hypotheses and design and conduct investigations to answer the following questions:
    • Is learning more effective in the mornings?
    • What are the optimal conditions for learning a new skill?
  • ​explain the use of random numbers in psychological sampling of a population; design, produce and test a mechanical device for producing random numbers; analyse to what extent the randomness produced is safe against tampering; use your device to select subjects for a survey or study
  • create a flow chart that clearly outlines the three processes of classical conditioning, identifying the unconditioned stimulus, unconditioned response, neutral stimulus, conditioned stimulus and conditioned response
  • discuss classic and operant conditioning; suggest why the term ‘conditioning’ is used instead of ‘learning’; explain why ‘conditioning’ is a form of ‘learning’
  • role-play applications of classical conditioning to demonstrate understanding of the three-phase process
  • use examples to explain the difference between ‘response cost’ and ‘negative reinforcement’
  • discuss: Is there a difference between reinforcement and reward?
  • use the article Operant Conditioning in the Classroom as a basis for: undertaking an experiment related to operant conditioning using a token economy; collating student-generated examples of positive and negative reinforcement and positive and negative punishment
  • explain how the principles of operant conditioning can be applied to pet training; identify ethical issues associated with training a pet and suggest how these may be resolved
  • invite a dog trainer to visit your class to talk about how they use reinforcers when obedience training animals
  • research and explain how operant conditioning is applied to the training of animals in circuses or at tourist attractions (for example, elephant painting); discuss the ethical issues associated with animal training; debate whether the training of domestic pets has different ethical issues associated with it than the training of animals for circus acts or tourist attraction performances
  • design and undertake an experiment to determine whether applause improves human or other animal performance; identify how the ethical issues associated with the experiment can be resolved
  • investigate methods of toilet training/learning in young children and identify the type of conditioning and/or learning involved
  • debate the effectiveness of punishment versus reinforcement when trying to modify a child’s behaviour
  • participate in an activity to demonstrate classical conditioning, for example association of pupil dilation with a bell or buzzer
  • simulate classical conditioning using a bell (the conditioned stimulus, CS) and sherbet (the unconditioned stimulus, UCS) to elicit salivation (the unconditioned response, UCR)
  • discuss the stages of observational learning (attention, retention, reproduction, motivation, reinforcement); engage in an observational learning task such as folding a T-shirt or constructing an origami animal and reflect on the relative importance of each stage of observational learning
  • critically analyse the ‘Little Albert’ experiment; identify the elements of classical conditioning involved and discuss the ethical issues involved in conditioning a fear response in a young child; describe two ‘sliding doors’ scenarios in which Little Albert receives or does not receive appropriate psychological intervention to reverse the conditioning effects
  • provide students with appropriate examples and ask them to identify the elements of operant conditioning as appropriate: reinforcement (positive and negative reinforcement); punishment (including response cost); stimulus generalisation; stimulus discrimination; extinction; and spontaneous recovery
  • undertake a research investigation by timing repeated trials of a simple maze to construct a learning curve; utilise a spreadsheet package to combine individual student data to plot a class learning curve; compare individual and class learning curves
  • view archival film related to the research of Pavlov, Skinner and Bandura (may be sourced by using appropriate search terms in YouTube) to investigate how we learn in terms of the independent and dependent variables involved, extraneous variables, research design, control and experimental groups, results, ethical issues
  • use multimedia CD-ROMs (such as PsykTrek and PsychNow) to explore models of classical and operant conditioning
  • with the help of your librarian, source news items summarising contemporary research related to theories of learning; critically evaluate the experimental designs
  • write a letter to the Transport Accident Commission (TAC) discussing strengths and limitations of the current consequences they have set for ‘hoon’ drivers (punishment, response cost), and suggesting other strategies to address the issue, for example the reinforcement of good behaviour of other drivers and ways that this could be achieved
  • create a list of examples that demonstrate operant conditioning in practice
  • view one of the following films: The Notebook, Memento or 50 First Dates; prepare a short report on the aspect of memory depicted in the film viewed
  • use PhotoStory to outline the journey of a piece of incoming sensory information from when a person first pays attention to it until it is stored in long-term memory, based on the Atkinson-Shiffrin multi-store model of memory
  • create a flow-chart diagram that summarises Atkinson-Shiffrin’s multi-store model of memory
  • identify the strengths and limitations of the multi-store model of memory
  • use a Venn diagram to outline the similarities and differences between maintenance and elaborative rehearsal
  • devise a set of questions and answers from reading texts on the factors that influence a person’s ability and inability to remember information; put these into a ‘finger flipper/chatter box’ game that covers all these factors.
  • role-play in small groups examples of the following: context and state dependent cues; maintenance rehearsal and elaborative rehearsal; and serial position effect
  • use a fish-bone diagram to outline how context-dependent and state-dependent cues and maintenance and elaborate rehearsal can be used to manipulate and enhance memory
  • investigate the work of Peterson and Peterson (1959) in terms of how quickly short-term memories decay, including an explanation of the concept of ‘ecological validity’
  • research the Internet for material related to the fallibility of eye-witness testimony and the work of Loftus (this may include relevant clips available on YouTube)
  • use a crossword generator program (for example, Eclipse Crossword to create a crossword using the key definitions of concepts related to memory
  • complete a ‘compare and contrast’ graphic organiser comparing sensory memory, short-term memory and long-term memory in terms of their function, capacity and duration
  • create a mind map of ‘How people learn’ using the dot points from the study design
  • using the melody of your favourite song, write new lyrics to it that explain the key elements and processes in classical conditioning and/or operant conditioning and/or observational learning
  • view ‘Life Without memory: The Case of Clive Wearing’​​; write a diary entry for a day in your life then re-write the diary entry that shows the effects of having no memory
  • investigate methods of toilet training young children and identify the type of conditioning and/or learning involved
  • stage an event that occurs in a short period in the classroom, for example delivery of an item by an unfamiliar person or a single-file entry of a group of students who circle the room and then exit and ask students to write a description of the event; ask the students specific questions such as ‘What type of shoes was the delivery person wearing?’ or ‘​What colour hair did the fourth student in the single-file line have?’; compare student responses in terms of the accuracy of eye-witness statements
  • Example icon for advice for teachers
    annotate a series of practical activities related to the reliability of memory​​
Example icon for advice for teachers 

Detailed example

Annotations of practical activities: memory and its reliability​


To demonstrate different processes involved in memory and to reflect on the reliability of memory.


While working through the key knowledge related to the process of memory and reliability of memory, the following activities could be completed and reflected upon within the students’ practical logbooks. A number of graded questions could then be set to address these activities.

Science skills

Teachers should identify and inform students of the relevant key science skills embedded in the task.

Practical activities

  • Conduct a demonstration of visual sensory (iconic) memory: Replicate Sperling’s classical experiment related to visual sensory memory and ask students to record their results in their logbook; discuss results in relation to the function, duration and capacity of visual sensory memory.
  • Conduct a demonstration of the limited capacity of STM: Read out a set of increasingly longer numbers or words in quick succession and ask students to write down as many as they can remember each time in their logbooks. As the number or word lists get longer and longer (in excess of 5–9 items), the students will struggle to remember the entire list.
  • Create a model of the brain: Provide students with a variety of materials (such as play dough, pipe cleaners or lollies) to create a model of the brain that identifies the specific regions of the brain involved in the storage of LTMs (cerebral cortex, hippocampus, amygdala and cerebellum). Students should take a photo of their model to place in their logbook and then annotate a summary of the main functions of each area.
  • Conduct a demonstration of recall and recognition: Provide each member of the class with the same word list. Then split the class in half. One half will simply be asked to recall the words by writing them down on a sheet of paper. The other half will be asked to recognise the words from among alternatives. An analysis of the class results could be conducted to compare recall and recognition as methods of retrieving information from memory.
  • Conduct a demonstration of relearning: Ask students to complete the same simple maze 5 times (you will need to photocopy it 5 times for each student). These should be kept face down until the student is ready to start each trial. Students then need to record the time it takes them to complete the maze for each trial in their logbook. They could also complete a savings score using their time from the original trial and the 5th trial (which should be the quickest).
  • Conduct a demonstration of reconstruction: Read the story ‘War of the Ghosts’, used in Bartlett’s 1932 study on the reconstructive nature of memory. Ask students to then write down their version of the story in their logbooks a few minutes later. Ask volunteers to read out their story and discuss any differences.
  • Conduct a comparison of maintenance vs elaborative rehearsal: The same list of words would be used, but one half of the class is given the instruction to simply repeat the words over and over silently in their heads, whereas the other half is asked to create a bizarre or funny story connecting the words together. After two minutes with the list, both halves of the class are asked to then write down as many of the words as they can. Class results could be collated and analysed.
  • Conduct a serial position effect experiment: Using a list of 15 words or nonsense syllables, read them aloud and ask the students to write them down immediately in any order. Repeat the same task with a similar list of words or nonsense syllables but ask the students to count backwards from 100 for a minute. Then ask them to write down the words/syllables down. Class results could be collated and placed in a spreadsheet and a graph created to represent both conditions (immediate vs delayed recall). Discussion could involve a comparison of the results in each condition and any evidence for the existence of the primacy and recency effects.

Discussion questions/suggested annotations when writing in logbook

A series of four to six graded questions could be set that address the activities and any data collected in relation to the processes involved in memory and its reliability, for example:

  • Identify: What were the dependent and independent variables in the comparison of recall and recognition as methods of retrieving information from memory?
  • Explain: With reference to any data you have collected about the multi-store model of memory (Atkinson-Shiffrin), explain the function, duration and capacity of sensory, STM and LTM. Explain the key findings with reference to the data you gathered on the serial position effect. Choose two specific areas of your brain model and explain how they would interact when storing a long-term memory.
  • Implications: Discuss how any data you gathered when demonstrating the different methods used to retrieve information from memory (recall, recognition, relearning and reconstruction) could be used in a real world context.
  • Evaluate: In terms of influencing a person’s ability and inability to remember information, evaluate the maintenance and elaborative methods of rehearsal.
  • Propose: What further data could be gathered to investigate any processes involved in memory and/or its reliability? Outline a method for further testing.

Teaching notes

  • These activities could be used to supplement teaching of the key knowledge during normal class time.
  • Only two or more of these activities need to be conducted if using this example as the basis of an assessment task.