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Memory Matrix (ALC)

Using Memory Matrix activity to check students' prior knowledge in an Active Learning Classroom (ALC).
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. The row and column headings are given in the activity, but the cells are left empty. As students fill in the blank cells, it provides 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

  • Laptop, tablet, or mobile phone
  • Classroom with campus wireless connection


The following workflow is meant to guide how to facilitate a Memory Matrix learning activity within an Active Learning Classroom (ALC).


  • 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.
  • Create a Google Doc template for students to use in class


  • At each table, ask students to work in pairs to complete the matrix from the Google Doc template.
  • Direct students to provide the information needed to fill in the cells. Tell them 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.
  • Once the pairs have completed their work, have the table work together to create a shared Google Doc that represents all the subgroup's work. Make sure all student names are on the top of the Google Doc and that it is shared with the instructor.
  • Upon completing the activity, call on one or two tables to present their findings. Ask the rest of the class if they had items not represented by the reporting groups.


  • If desired, review matrices from the shared Google Docs 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 wants to help students make the connection between structures, processes, and functions. He creates a Memory Matrix handout to assess how well his first-year nursing students understand these connections to the digestive system. He creates 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 uses the assessment after the students have read a chapter on that system but before he has lectured on the content. In class, he gives each group a copy of the matrix. Groups have fifteen minutes to fill in the missing information. When time is up, the instructor collects the handouts. While students are watching a twenty-minute video on enzymes functioning in the digestive system, he reviews the matrices for misplaced and missing information. After the video, he leads a focused discussion on the digestive system, pointing out some of the common errors each group has made (Modified from Angelo 143).

Example 2

In Spanish 1, students are introduced to verb endings. The instructor wants to know how well students have internalized the organizing logic of "families" of verbs. Specifically, she wants to find out whether students can quickly and easily categorize common verbs they have recently learned. She created a Memory Matrix with three columns (-ar, -er, and -ir) and two rows (irregular and regular). Students are given ten minutes to fill in the blank cells with as many different "base form" verbs as they can recall. She collects the list when the time is up. After class, she reviewed the list and identified two problem areas. First, students didn't misclassify irregular verbs as regular, but they frequently mistake them for irregular. Second, students confused the -er and -ir verbs — something she often noted during conversational practice. This feedback gives the instructor a clearer picture of the content to review in the next class session. It also helps students decide where to focus their study time before the first test (Modified from 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 classroomDoc ID118483
OwnerTimmo D.GroupInstructional Resources
Created2022-05-10 15:05:00Updated2024-04-16 12:40:22
SitesCenter for Teaching, Learning & Mentoring
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