Make it Fun! Kid-Approved Games for Building Visual Memory

Sep 14, 2018

Welcome to the third part of our visual memory series! These fun games and activities can be played as a family or with your students to help them exercise and build their visual memory muscles!

Make it Fun(Catch up on the previous posts here!)

Visual Memory Tic Tac Toe

Visual Memory Tic-Tac-ToeThe twist on this classic games is that, instead of playing with Xs and Os on a page, students visualize playing the game.

Using a traditional tic tac toe board, each square is labeled with a number – 1-9. Students will call out what box they want to put their X or O in, taking turns just as in regular tic tac toe. The goal is still to get three in a row, but in this version, students have to visualize where the Xs and Os are on the game board as they play. Download the game board and instructions here!

Let’s say Player 1 is Xs, Player 2 is Os. Player 1 decides to put his X in number 2 and so he points to square 2.  Player 2 decides to put her O in the number 1 and does the same. Player 1 picks number 5 for his next X, so he has two Xs in a row! But Player 2 quickly decides to block with her next O by putting it in number 8. Player 1 goes again and selects number 6 for his next X, and Player 2 decides to go number 7. Player 1 decides that they have enough to win and can put his X in 4 to get their three in a row and win the game.

Kids will call out the number for which box they want to put their X or O and they have to be able remember where their opponent went, figure out where they need to block, and see where the next opening might be for them to play their next turn.

This is a great way to help increase visual memory with students. It’s fun to play at a restaurant, or waiting at a doctor or dentist’s office because it’s simple and requires hardly any prep or materials. Remember to use this game with students who are developmentally ready for it. Usually we start this in 2nd grade, but you might also be able to use it as a challenge your students in 1st grade.

Visual Memory Buddies

buddies working togetherIn many schools, the younger students (K-2) have buddies from a higher grade (3 and up) that come to read with them or do math with them on a regular basis. These are mutually beneficial relationships – the younger students get one-on-one attention and support, while the the older students get practice solidifying concepts they’ve learned and are then able to share. When I was in the classroom, I know that my students’ buddies had a big impact on them. The older students were also impacted, and students would all remember and talk about their buddies, even years later. This kind of buddy system is a great opportunity for a school community to connect!

We targeted 2nd graders because, historically and developmentally, this group of students really needs a lot of work in developing visual memory. So, we wanted our 5th graders to work with our 2nd graders to really help them learn how to spell inside out.

The Visual Memory Buddies program was actually pioneered by an amazing speech pathologist at our school, Mary Ann Barry, who was also an excellent interventionist. She based the program on a lot of the research from the Early Learning Foundation with Bob Sorenson.

The idea behind the program is to have 5th grade students mentoring 2nd grade students in building visual memory in a specific sequence. (We talked about sequences in a previous blog post – read it here!) The 5th grader builds different arrangements of pattern blocks, presents them to the younger student in varying amounts of timed exposure, and then the 2nd grader has to replicate that pattern from memory.

Visual Memory Pattern Blocks Activity1Our speech pathologist would go into the classrooms and train the 5th grade class on what they would be doing, and then the 2nd grade class was introduced the process of working with their buddy to build visual memory. Students met weekly and would have 10 trials at each level, starting with two shapes and working up to 5 shapes (download instructions and an outline of the progressive levels). Once those levels were mastered, students would move into learning how to do spelling inside out.

Materials Needed:

  • File folder (used as a partition)
  • Recording Sheet
  • Two pieces of paper with circles (drawn or printed)
  • 1 bag of shapes for each student (parquetry blocks, pattern blocks, or plastic shapes)


It’s important that students sit shoulder-to-shoulder in this activity so they both have the perspective of the objects being observed. If we had them sit across from each other (knee-to-knee), students would have an extra step of having to flip or reverse the shapes before the pattern could be replicated, which would be hard for students who are just developing that foundation of visual memory.


Both students get one of the papers with a circle and place it on either side of the file folder that is standing up between them. All the pattern blocks must reside in that circle until they are being used. It’s important that the 2nd grader doesn’t touch the pattern blocks until after the barrier is put back down so they can visualize how those shapes were created.

Pattern 3The first level begins with the buddies together agreeing on two shapes that they’ll use. The 5th grader creates a shape with the two preselected pattern blocks. The older student builds the shape on his side of the file folder. When they’re ready, the 5th grader lifts the file folder for a 5-second exposure where the 2nd grader can study the shape, then the folder goes back down and it’s time for the 2nd grader to build!

Once a student masters replicating shapes with two preselected blocks, the difficulty increases by the 5th grader pulling two blocks at random to build their shape. The 2nd grader doesn’t know which two blocks will be used each time, and so has to visually recall which blocks to select from his or her pile, as well as replicating the shape once he or she finds the correct blocks.

Let’s say the 5th grader picked the orange square and the hexagon and put them together as a shape. The file folder goes up, and the 2nd grader would see the pattern for the exposure time (5, 3, or 1 seconds) and would have to select the correct blocks from his pile and then replicate that shape.

PatternThe next level of difficulty involves shortening the exposure time from 5 seconds down to 3 seconds and then down to 1 second. Once a child masters replicating shapes built from 2 random shapes at all three of the exposure times, you can increase the number of shapes. Begin by using predetermined shapes, so kids would know they will be using, for example, a red trapezoid, a hexagon and the green triangle. They’d be able to see what is going to be used.

If the 2nd grader is incorrect, you can lift the file folder and have the child correctly replicate the shape. Then the 5th grader would indicate on the recording sheet that that round was incorrect, and they’d move on with the rest of the rounds for that level.

We want three consecutive days with 90% success on a particular level before the buddies could progress. If students were not able to “pass” a level, they’d repeat it the next day until they were successful.

Pattern2Five to ten minutes of practice in visual memory at a time is plenty! In our school, the 5th grade students would come down to visit a couple times per week and they would be responsible to bring their file folders and recording sheets where they were tracking their buddy’s progress. They loved it! Some schools schedule their Visual Memory Buddies 5 days per week, while some can only get it in on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

I love this program because students can be working on different levels at the same time. The 5th grade students were really able to support the teachers as they worked with the 2nd graders, and it’s something parents can even use at home as well! If you don’t have pattern blocks, just cut some shapes out of a piece of paper!

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