Theater games help strengthen students’ working memory

“Submit your assignments, retrieve your textbooks, and assemble on the carpet.” Sounds straightforward, right? Nevertheless, whenever students are required to follow multi-step instructions and retain information long enough to complete a task, we are essentially tasking them with utilizing a complex form of cognitive processing known as “working memory,” which aids in storing information temporarily. For instance, when students engage with a passage, they utilize working memory to hold onto information, perhaps just long enough to proficiently respond to questions regarding it. Similarly, in mathematics, students may employ it to keep track of the step they are currently on to accurately solve a problem.

Working memory can be likened to the brain’s scratchpad. It is a fundamental executive function skill as identified by neuroscientist Adele Diamond, which is crucial for cognitive, social, and psychological development, success in school and in life, and mental and physical health. Research substantiates the correlation between robust working memory and academic achievement, particularly in relation to mathematics and reading comprehension.

The positive aspect is that working memory can be enhanced simply through play. Engaging in imaginative play can profoundly impact young minds: When children “self-distance” or pretend to be someone else, these skills actually improve. As a theater instructor, I have always believed that imagination can unlock incredible potential in our youth. The revelations about the “Batman Effect” prompted me to collaborate with Mount Sinai Parenting Center on guided play games that educators and families can utilize to exercise these brain-based self-control skills.

The theater games outlined below enhance students’ capacity for attention regulation and, in particular, their working memory. Integrate this social and emotional learning enhancement into your morning meeting routine or incorporate it into your curriculum.

4 Theater Games That Enhance Working Memory and Other Skills

1. Motion Story and Sound Story. (Literacy) Commence by crafting a simple story with your students. Each time a new character or element is introduced, instruct them to enact it with a gesture. Once there are approximately five gestures, have the class recount the story solely through the movements without using words. I refer to this as Motion Story. You can follow a similar pattern with Sound Story using noises or catchphrases. Have students take turns and narrate what they devised, purely through sounds. As their proficiency improves, collectively build longer stories to enhance their ability to recall more information.

2. Taxi. (Imagination) Engaging in dramatic play necessitates young children to retain information, such as their character and the rules of the world. An excellent example is the improv game Taxi, where children imagine they are individuals with urgent destinations, and the taxi assists them in reaching those places. Initially, serve as the driver with children queued up to “flag down” a ride. Each child enters the cab one at a time, revealing their character and desired location. The driver can pose inquiries, and the student responds in character. The journey can include twists, bumps, or detours; perhaps the cab even sports magical wings to ensure prompt arrival at the destination.

After a brief duration in the taxi, they “arrive” and must compensate the driver, be it with mystical coins, a unique dance, or delectable food. This act concludes their turn, allowing another student to request the taxi. Students hone their working memory as they adhere to the established game format, maintaining their character throughout their taxi voyage.

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