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Memory Matrix

Using Memory Matrix activity to measure prior knowledge in a classroom.
Time and Effort
Instructor Prep Time Medium
Student Activity Time Low
Instructor Response Time Medium
Complexity of Activity Medium


Memory Matrix is a two-dimensional diagram used to organize and illustrate relationships. In the activity, the row and column headings are given, but the cells are left empty. As students fill in the blank cells, it provides them feedback on their understanding of content while helping instructors assess students’ recall and/or comprehension.


Use it when you want...

  • To help students recall essential content,
  • To have students develop the skill of organizing information into categories,
  • To see whether students have memorized the necessary information, how well they can recall new content, and how effectively they organized it.

What students will need

  • There are no special requirements for this approach.


The following workflow is meant to guide how to facilitate a Memory Matrix learning activity within a classroom.


  • Identify a lecture, reading, discussion, or another assignment that will be the foundation of the activity.
  • Review the content and draw a simple table in which rows and columns are useful variables for important information in the lesson.
  • Fill in the blank cells yourself with the appropriate facts. Use the same vocabulary in the content students reviewed.
  • Identify whether students will complete the table individually or in groups. If in groups, identify group size and group formation criteria.


  • Ask students either to work individually or in pairs to complete the assignment.
  • Give students a blank handout at the start of class for the beginning, middle, or end of the class session.
  • Direct students to provide the information needed to fill in the cells. Tell them how they should complete the table (individually or in groups) and how much time they have to complete it. Ask them to write only words or brief phrases. Set a realistic limit for the number of items you expect them to insert into each cell.
  • Collect the matrices.


  • Review matrices and assess the correctness and completeness of the information given.
  • Provide feedback/grade based on the quality of the matrices.
  • Discuss the results of the activity at the next class meeting.

Accessibility and Room Considerations

  • None

Technical Documentation


Example 1

An Anatomy and Physiology professor wanted to help students make the connection between structures, processes, and functions. He created a Memory Matrix handout to assess how well his first-year nursing students understand these connections to the digestive system. He created three columns (Structure, Functions, and Enzymes) and several rows with elements of the digestive system (e.g., mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intensive, large intestine, pancreas, liver, and gall bladder). He used the assessment after the students read a chapter on that system but before he lectured on the content. In class, he organized students into groups of five and gave each group a copy of the matrix. Groups had fifteen minutes to fill in the missing information. When the time was up, the instructor collected the handouts. While students watched a twenty-minute video on enzymes functioning in the digestive system, they reviewed the matrices for misplaced and missing information. After the video, he led a focused discussion on the digestive system, pointing out some of the more common errors each group had made.

Example 2

In Spanish 1, students were introduced to verb endings. The instructor wanted to know how well students have internalized the organizing logic of "families" of verbs. Specifically, she wanted to find out whether students could quickly and easily categorize common verbs they had recently learned. She created a Memory Matrix with three columns (-ar, -er, and -ir) and two rows (irregular and regular). Students were given ten minutes to fill in the blank cells with as many different "base form" verbs as they could recall. She collected the list when the time was up. After class, she reviewed the list and identified two problem areas. Students didn't misclassify irregular verbs as regular but frequently mistake regular verbs for irregular verbs. Second, students confused the -er and -ir verbs — something she often noted during conversational practice. This feedback gave the instructor a clearer picture of the content to review in the next class session. It also helped students decide where to focus their study time before the first test (Angelo 143).


Angelo, Thomas A., and K. Patricia Cross. Classroom Assessment Techniques: a Handbook for College Teachers. Jossey-Bass, 1993. pp. 142-147.

Keywordsmemory matrix, prior knowledge, active learning, classroom pkDoc ID104172
OwnerTimmo D.GroupInstructional Resources
Created2020-07-20 15:47:32Updated2024-04-16 12:40:22
SitesCenter for Teaching, Learning & Mentoring
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