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Let’s face it, we all love free stuff!

So we’ve decided to add to new tools to our Free Tools challenge series.

Over the next few weeks, we will present more of the best free web tools for educators and students as we possibly can. We’ve got tools and websites of all types that you are going to love.

Your challenge:

  1. Follow this blog closely and read about any new tool you haven’t yet tried out – there is sure to be many!
  2. Do your best to carve out a few minutes each week to really try out one or more free tool each week with your students. Then, come back to the blog and share your experience by writing a post about your experience or leaving a comment.


In this Free Tools Challenge, you will learn a little bit about the following:

  1. What Is Memrise?
  2. How Do You Use Memrise?
  3. What’s Memrise Good For?
  4. The Challenge!
  5. Extending The Discussion


Memrise is an online application that is focused on teaching vocabulary to language learners (you can learn vocabulary from dozens of languages, including English), but is actively expanding to other subjects and topics.  Its approach is based on what they call “Mems”:

our natty word for the morsels of interesting and relevant information you see beneath every word on Memrise. Mems can be mnemonics, etymologies, amusing videos, photos, example sentences: anything which helps connect what you’re learning and bring it to life.

Mems are used with the purpose of making words, and their associated concepts, “sticky” .  Not content to let “stickiness” do the job of implanting the word in your memory, Memrise also has a four-part method for reinforcing the learnings:

  1. Memrise teaches the word for the first time and it is entered in short-term memory.
  2. Memrise tests the user on the word again and again, in the same session, to reinforce and consolidate it in short-term memory.
  3. Four hours after completing the initial learning, Memrise gives a test to ensure the word is transferred to long-term memory.
  4. Periodically, Memrise sends reminders to users that encourage them to be tested on the word again.

This system has been designed to move as far away as possible from simple “cramming” or rote memorization and is instead intended to create long-term retention and contextual understanding of vocabulary.

Memrise is not only the only provider/creator of vocabulary lists.  Memrise actually functions as a Wiki and allows users to create their own publicly available vocabulary lists that function just like those that Memrise provides (you can also associate Mems with them and test users).  For a fuller discussion of what Memrise is and does, check out this article from TheEdublogger by yours truly.

How To Use Memrise:

Here we are just going to focus on how you can use Memrise, as a teacher, to create a course that you can give to your students (and the broader educational community).  This is just a brief summary, though, so for a more detailed guide on how Memrise works, click here.

Step 1. Create An Account.

To be able to create a course, you will need to create an account (link here) with Memrise and log in.  They only require a username and password, but if you would like to make it even easier on yourself, you can simply use their Facebook integration to create an account.

Step 2. Find Your Topic.

The Memrise Navbar.  Click on Topics.
The Memrise Navbar. Click on Topics.

To create a course, you first have to find an appropriate Topic for it to be housed in.  Memrise is divided into topics which feature courses (vocabulary lists) that are designed to teach that topic’s vital vocabulary.  They divide it into two searchable categories of topics: Languages and Other Topics.

The languages topics are divided by language (Chinese, French, Spanish, German, etc.) and inside each language you can find multiple courses with specialized vocabulary sets.  English is a little bit different as it also has other sub-topics like SAT Vocabulary or ESL, but within each sub-topic there are specific courses, as with the other languages.  The Other Topics cover all of the other, non-language subjects for which people have made vocabulary lists.  An example below:

A Screenshot Of The Memrise "Other Topics".
A Screenshot Of The Memrise “Other Topics”.

Step 3. Name Your Course.

Create Your Own Course Button.
Create Your Own Course Button.

Having found your Topic, it is time to create your course.  In the right hand sidebar you can see the button that allows you to create your own course.  In the page that pops up, you will be required to enter course information: the name of the course, a short description of the course, a course image (optional), and the topic it falls under (it’s a drop-down menu).

Step 4. Type of paste a list of words and press “Add”.

Once you have created the course description, it is time to create the course itself.   You can enter the words that you would like to add to your list either one-by-one or by simply pasting a list into their editor.  Once the words are entered, Memrise will search through their Wiki/database to find definitions, parts of speech, audio samples, and mems that match your word. You can then use that information to make sure your list is as complete as possible.  If they do not have the word in their Wiki, you can enter the definition of the word yourself.

How To Add Words To Your Course.
How To Add Words To Your Course.

Step 5. Publish and Edit.

After you are done editing, simply press the big green “Done Editing” button and your course will be published.  You can then grab the URL and share it with your students.  There is one thing I didn’t mention in the last step, though.  If the word you enter is not in the Wiki, you are able to enter the definition, but not any parts of speech, audio samples, or mems.  To do that, you will have to access it (click on the big, green Plant Seeds button) as your students would, and add those in manually.  The form below is the one you would use:

Click On The Plus Button To Edit.
Click On The Plus Button To Edit.

Possible Educational Uses:

Here are two of the more obvious uses for Memrise:

  • For those of you who teach either ESL or non-English languages, you can begin introducing your students to vocabulary with tools that will help them to understand the word without having to resort to their native language (ex. a picture of a frog, rather than the the Japanese word for “frog”).
  • If you are teaching SAT-level vocabulary, you can add context to the meaning of the word, so vocabulary that might not be encountered frequently can still be understood and examples readily recalled by the student.
 And those are only two subject fields.  Memrise can readily be applied to any number of different subjects and fields where memorization could be helpful like History, Biology, Art, and Geography.

The Challenge:

  1. Create a Memrise course for your class.
  2. Add Mems and other information to your course.
  3. Assign it to your students.
  4. Quiz them on that information.

Extending the Discussion:

  • How valuable is memorization in the educational process?  Should it be a first-order element, or something done in the background?  Is the best form of memorization just learning the thing in the first place?
  • Are there subjects where memorization is more important?  Subjects where it is less vital?
  • Are there ages where memorization is more important or less?  Should younger students be using memorization to build important foundations or does it stunt their curiosity?

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