Quotation 39627
07 Oct 2018

Strategies to Memorise Quotations

Strategies to Memorise Quotations

The new English Literature GCSE has a huge amount of content and with that the number of quotations students should know has increased. With so many quotations to learn, we want to support our students in being able to memorise them efficiently. Here are two evidence-informed strategies.

Retrieval Practice

Our example here comes from Animal Farm in Old Major’s speech: “Let us face it: our lives are miserable, laborious, and short.” On its own, this quotation might be easy to learn. But remember that it is one of many quotations that students might wish to memorise.

A great way to memorise quotations is to use retrieval practice. Retrieval practice is when we try to recall previously studied information. In deliberately trying to access that information, we help to aid later retention. It is more effective than rereading because the retrieval of information is active rather than passive. There are other benefits too. For example, testing can identify gaps in knowledge in a way that simply rereading a quotation does not. Quotations feel familiar when we reread them but they are not necessarily memorised.

How should we quiz to memorise quotations? Initially, it is useful to recall by using a cue of some sort.

We could draw an image to represent the quotation and use it to cue the recall of the quotation:

We could miss out words and fill them in:

Let’s face it: our lives are_____________, _____________ and _____________

We could use a mnemonic to prompt recall:


We could use the first word:


We could ask a question:

How does Old Major describe the lives of the animals?

It’s important for us to model these strategies with students so that they can use them independently.


In this post on Elaborative Interrogation, the Learning Scientists write that elaboration “involves explaining and describing ideas with many details. Elaboration also involves making connections among ideas you are trying to learn and connecting the material to your own experiences, memories, and day-to-day life.”

We want to encourage students to take their quotations and elaborate. There are some generic questions we could ask to help students elaborate on quotations:

  • Who said it/ who is it about?
  • Where does this occur in the text?
  • Which quotation is this similar to?
  • What else do I need to know to make sense of this?
  • How does this link to context?
  • What methods can I spot in this quotation?
  • What are the connotations of x?

Not only do these questions help students to remember the quotation, but they are also thinking deeply about how to use that quotation in an essay. Suddenly the quotation is memorised along with a whole range of things to say about it.

We will explore strategies to support the long term retention of knowledge on our new training course: A Memorable 5 Year English Curriculum. Find out more and sign up here.

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