Skip to content

Memorize poetry with Spaced Repetition

February 28, 2010
Poem next to a red rose

I must apologize for not finishing the newer post on how I’m doing incremental PDF reading, Somehow, again, I got into some other topic. Still that topic should be covered very shortly as soon as my mind is very clear with the steps involved.

Know,  lets get on with the current blog subject.

I never really try to learn anything by rote. At Middle school, verbatim memorization did help me get trough some subjects (history, geography, politics, etc.) which I then considered the most dull and nonsense information a child was obligated to learn.

During college, knowing the big picture was by far much more important most of the time. For the rest, a last night cramming session was normally enough to overcome exam grades requirements on excessively detailed courses like biochemistry, microbiology, parasitology – I wanted to be a sports physician and it all meant to be absolutely unnecessary to the level of using a library index card drawer nowadays.

At this stage of my life, it simply didn’t matter anymore the ability to retain a big portion of text verbatim, let a lone for a very long period of time. Even though it was no longer a requirement for my life and hence it shouldn’t matter anymore. I still felt like this incapability of my brain, to retain every single word in a page, was something I just had to bear trough, the same way I’ve done with not being at least 6 feet tall.

Maybe it was my self analytic way of being. Or perhaps the real reasons to keep coming back to this rote memorization issue had more to do with the fact that some of my peers looked much better suited for the task then me . Yet, many of them didn’t excel in some courses I found fairly easy so it wasn’t a matter of intelligence but of pure wrote memory deficiency.

For me its always been like every word read, either silently or aloud, would go in to my ears pass to the occipital cortex and all the way into the languages processing areas of my brain, but for some bizarre reason this neural voyage did not ever travel down to my Hypocampus. Hence, after more then two days, the only lasting experience retained was that certain day I tried to memorize a piece of text verbatim and again reached to the most fairly common result – forgetting.

Over the last weeks I’ve trying to memorize poems. Not wordy poems, just a couple of English love poems and a nice poem in my first language. An after testing them today I can say, that putting aside the placebo effect of using SuperMemo for the task, I’ve memorized three poems.

I’ve found some ideas on how to make the necessary steps to memorize poems on the supermemopedia, yet the stated recommendations seem to defy current neurocognitive knowledge “rules” so I used a slightly modified version of the procedure.

Basically I made several line clozes from the original poems, as well as a full poem Q&A pair.

Q: Repeat Neruda’s 15th poem

A: [Complete poem here]

This full poem Q&A pair was set to be asked tomorrow (e.a 1 day interval)

The rest of the poem was memorized in a sequential manner, top to bottom using a non randomized Drill sequence. Other wise you don’t get fluently enough to be able to say you know the poem.

I found vital two issues:

  • You need to included in the cloze question area at least 4 previous lines to the line asked – including the previous paragraph is even better.

  • Never include the line following the Cloze you ask in the Question portion of the item.

Q&A Example


A Special World

A special world for you and me

A special bond one cannot see

It wraps us up in its cocoon

And holds us fiercely in its womb.

Its fingers spread like fine spun gold



Gently nestling us to the fold

Like silken thread it holds us fast


To consider each repetition correct I repeat aloud the three previous lines to the cloze […] and this normally triggers clozed line’s recall.

It is not completely necessary to include two lines in the answer. Answering the first line is enough to score it as learned (e.a. good), but I prefer to include it because most of the time the answer triggers recall of the next line also. I think this double checking will be useful on the long-term to find the stumbling blocks in recalling this poems.

Trough this simple method I’ve learned three poems by rote and unless they fall into a very low priority queue inside SuperMemo they’ll stay within my neocortex for a long time.

This might seem to many people an complete fruitless investment of time but it all started with the purpose to fill a gap in my current believe that skill is not about the bike. Or as Dr. Carol Dweck (leading researcher in developmental psychology) would put it – since I changed from being an entity learner to an incremental learner.

This method has been useful up to know, anybody tested something like it using SuperMemo or other programs for verbatim memorization. I’d like to hear what you think and what could modified to enhance the method in order to achieve the best time/result ratio.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. February 28, 2010 21:29

    Often times when reading something, I will really appreciate the way a certain text is phrased, and while I might wish to retain the information, I also want to have the phraseology at my disposal in the future. Maybe that is a complicated way of saying “I like certain quotes.” When I want to remember a quote I think of it like a physical construct; there are a few certain points of great interest, and remembering those seem to be key.

    For example, a recent quote I found from Aristotle (The important parts will be in CAPS): “It is the mark of AN EDUCATED MIND to be able to ENTERTAIN a thought without ACCEPTING it.”

    In this case, three cloze items would emerge from the quote. I doubt I would make one for “thought,” although it wouldn’t hurt if I REALLY wanted to remember the wording. The main points I want to remember are “educated mind can entertain things without accepting.”

    The reason I say this is because over the last month or so, I have experimented with putting poetry into SM. I never thought much of it, though. I simply treated a poem like large quotes. It took a couple of weeks for the items to sort themselves out (Get them wrong enough times for them to “click”), but now that I think of it, I can recall the piece of poetry without any problem now. Interesting.

  2. mndfll permalink
    March 5, 2010 08:19

    I’ve mostly used SM for facts, but I have memorized a few poems and the Declaration of Independence word-for-word. Two differences in how I memorize: (1) I will cloze pretty much every phrase, not just a line, because I find I am terrible at memorizing whole lines; I then cloze the whole lines, slowly deleting the cloze phrases as I feel confident in them; then I cloze several lines at a time, deleting the cloze single lines as I gain confidence. (2) to make sure I connect sections of a poem, I will cloze the last line of one section and use the first line of the next section as the cue text.

    As far as short quotes, I cloze the whole phrases, but, like LittleFish, I look at key concepts in the quote to determine what to cloze.

    • gersapa permalink*
      March 6, 2010 12:13

      Little Fish:

      Very frequently the material constructs of your on phraseology is much pleasant to read.

      “from Aristotle (The important parts will be in CAPS): “It is the mark of AN EDUCATED MIND to be able to ENTERTAIN a thought without ACCEPTING it.”

      In this case, three cloze items would emerge from the quote.”

      I find this approach very Wozniak’s but also probably the most efficient in terms of time. However I think this also leads to making too many clozes if you include a lot of quotes, or poems. Of course moderation should be a must in order overcome your own knowledge voracious hunger. Although, for some quotes don’t qualify as knowlege, for me, if it helps you understand or build new knowledge than its also knowledge.


      Thanks for explaining the complete steps of you method. I’ll try out this way and post results from this experience.

  3. April 23, 2013 10:11

    This is interesting. I’m doing some research now on SRS. I’m trying to promote one program among my students. I teach English and IELTS in Singapore. I’ve read a lot on SRS for the purposes of learning languages and vocabulary (few words), but to memorize poems. Wow! Gives me some ideas on how I can use SRS to get my students to memorize slightly longer phrases!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: