Retrieval Practice ‘Grab bag’

Resources, ideas and prompts for discussion related to Deliberate Practice and retrieval based tasks

A sample and selection of retrieval practice strategies

A number of techniques have already been covered so far in this section but this page serves as a list of approaches that encourage practice and engage learners in activities the promote recall and retrieval. In collating this information together a huge acknowledgement goes to Kate Jones and her excellent and highly recommended book, Retrieval Practice: Research & Resources for every classroom’ (of which we have multiple copies and it is a popular request from the MACS CPD Library!). There are many, many more ideas in the book!

Some of these are also explained and discussed in resources produced for students around Independent Learning and Study Skills (given out on revision days and shared with families).

Retrieval Practice: Research & Resources for every classroom ...
‘Retrieval Practice’ by Kate Jones

‘Retrieval Placemat’

Placemats are quite common in schools, and we use them in MACS with various approaches (including supporting literacy and numeracy, and also promoting independence through ‘Steps to Success’ mats). In the context of retrieval, Kate uses the version shown below (which can be laminated for longevity or displayed on screen). It is used to promote verbal discussion between students about topics that have been covered as part of recall.

Retrieval Practice Placemat by Kate Jones

In discussion with a colleague Kate noted that this technique is simple to use, the tasks are generalised so can be applied to lots of contexts and work across subjects, it builds habits as the prompts over and over again.

‘Brain or Memory Dump’

Incredibly simple to set up and do. All learners need is a topic list and some blank paper. Choose something to learn from the list or get someone else to pick something at random to make it tough! Then set a time limit and they really must concentrate to read and review notes (maybe 10 minutes). Put notes away and try to write, draw, transfer everything remembered to the blank piece of paper (use another time limit!). Once done compare it to the original notes – what was remembered, what was forgotten? Either way they are now thinking about it yet again! Keep doing this and over time more and more information will end up on that blank piece of paper!

‘Revision Clocks’

Similar in principle and set up to ‘Brain Dumps’, except instead of a blank piece of paper a clock style template is used to write down any remembered information. Each segment of the clock is a space for notes on a particular part of the wider topic. The clock segments also could represent time limits (e.g. spend 5…10…20…minutes writing out all you can remember), The blank template is shown below and can be downloaded here. Also shown is a great example of a completed revision clock on the ‘Restless Earth’ from

Revision Clock template example
Restless Earth revision clock – from

‘List It’

A quick and easy ‘free recall’ task, students have to list as many items/as much as they can that fit a given criteria set by the teacher in the time given:

  • List as many keyword related to…
  • List as many key facts linked to…
  • List as many keys about [insert previous topic for spaced practice]…
  • List as many key dates/individuals related to…
  • List as many causes of X as you can…
  • List as many consequences of X as you can…

Kate suggests that it could be extended by doing one round individually then a second in collaboration by sharing ideas with peers. An example she shares in her book is from a Welsh second language lesson where learners had to recall and ‘List It’ for as many key words linked to Ysgol, Bwyd and Hobiau. In this example the student or class produced a list of 14 words linked to Ysgol, 14 linked to Bwyd, and only 5 linked to Hobiau. This helps uncover areas of strength and areas suggesting a need for support.

‘Memory Monday, Throwback Thursday, Flashback Friday…?’

…Call it what you like to build up a sense of routine and habit with you class, but essentially whenever you have a lesson on said day of the week or fortnight, end the lesson with a consistent retrieval practice task such as a mini quiz. The actual approach could be anything you like, as long as it tests memory of topics covered over a ranging timescale, and there are lots of suggestions of quick quizzes in this section. You could use mini whiteboards as part of this routine so learners know it is not a permanent judgement, we simply to try our best and then wipe it away, and try again and try better the next time!

‘Retrieval Roulette’

This approach to collating, storing and selecting questions for spaced practice quizzes has been shared online by Adam Boxer ( – ‘Retreival Roulettes!’) and very well received. It gained particular popularity amongst science teachers (Adam’s own subject!) but has since been applied to many others (see his website link above for question banks already written for many subjects that you could copy and paste into the template!).

Adam has a designed an Excel program that takes a list of questions and answers to generate a 5 question quiz. His approach is to set the tool to pick 5 questions any point in the course and he then can pick 5 from the current topic too.

To download the Retrieval Roulette template click here. It is currently loaded with GCSE Triple Chemistry standard Qs so you can see how it works as an example. All you need to do is delete the questions on the first ‘Questions’ tab and insert different ones (you don’t need to alter anything else!).


  1. On the first tab along the bottom of the Excel file called Questions, create a bank of all the quick fire questions as the year progresses making sure they are in order of when you taught them chronologically (keep this and re-use it, or use questions others have shared). Make sure Number, Question, Answer and Topic is filled in.
  2. Do Now tab: This would be your cumulative retrieval quiz, all you need to do is type the number of the Q you have covered up to in your teaching into cell M3. The sheet should automatically pick 5 Qs at random then up to that point. If you are not happy with the 5 Qs, retype the number and hit enter.
  3. Do Now ans tab: This will collate the answers for you for the 5Qs.
  4. Do Now R tab: This is a clever one, if you just want to choose questions from a set teaching range then use this, you just type in two numbers in cells M3 and P3 that denote the range restraints. This tab is good for picking the 5 Qs say from the last week or two.
  5. Do Now R ans tab: Again, simply the corresponding answers automatically collated for the Qs on the previous tab.

Taking this further Adam actually produces Flashcards for his students on the entire topics and gives these out throughout units. all of his retrieval roulette questions are taken from his Flashcards (so he links the class revision to the questions he uses).

Associated further reading and references:

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