Essentials of a Classical Education: Recitation & Memorization

Recitation and memorization are an important part of a Classical Education.

While many people would argue that memorization isn’t necessary during our age of information where everything is available with the click of a mouse, I disagree. Memory work is so much more than just memorizing a boring list of facts to have stored away for a future date. Here’s just a small list of what memorization can do:

  • provide a rich vocabulary

  • train the brain for critical thought processes

  • strengthen the brain

  • build complex language patterns

And sometimes it’s just handy to have some things memorized (like prepositions)!

Recitation goes hand-in-hand with memorization. The act of standing and reciting poems or historical information cements that information in your brain. It also provides other valuable skills. Recitation can:

  • strengthen communication skills

  • develop solid presentation techniques

  • provide a strong foundation for later rhetoric-level skills

Memorization and recitation do not have to be boring (especially in the elementary years). Creative Ways to Memorize from Sola Gratia Mom is a great round-up of ideas for adding some fun and creativity to daily recitation time.

So how can you implement a daily recitation time into your day?

My favorite method is the Scripture Memory System from Simply Charlotte Mason. We change the system slightly by using a binder and tabbed dividers instead of an index card box. But the system works very well. You’re constantly reviewing previously learned material so things always stay fresh.

Now that we agree on the importance of memorization and recitation and we have a system in place, it’s time to decide what to memorize.My one goal for our daily recitation time is to make it relevant. If we are studying ancient Egypt we recite a list of important pharaohs. If we are learning about astronomy we memorize the names of the planets and the types of stars. As Susan W. Bauer says, we are creating “pegs” for learning.

When I’m planning our school year I take some time to choose things for memory work. I type them up and put them in our binder behind a tab marked “new work”. When TJ has fully memorized a piece and it gets moved out of the daily section, she chooses something new to memorize from that section. There are a few resources that we like to use (and some that always seem to be at the top of everyone’s list) when we’re choosing new things to memorize.

Favorite Resources:

Some of these links are affiliate links.

With a simple system in place and a bit of planning at the beginning of a new school year, adding a daily recitation time is not difficult and will provide numerous benefits.

For further reading on the subject of memorization and recitation:

When I heard about the Scripture Memory System I thought it sounded perfect for our needs and it really has been! It’s become an indispensable part of our morning routine. We use (a modified) version of the system to memorize Scripture as well as poetry, French, history, and science.

Each morning, as part of her routine, TJ pulls out her binder and goes through the appropriate sections for that day. Once a month she recites her daily work aloud without using the binder and we move things and add new items as needed. This system has worked so well for us!

Here’s what she memorized during her first-grade year –

Scripture: Matthew 6:9-13 Psalm 23 Psalm 100

Poetry: Hearts are like Doors Toot! Toot! The Purple Cow The Caterpillar Days of the Week Work Ooey Gooey Celery The Months Mr. Nobody The Young Lady of Niger

History and Science Topics: Important pharaohs of Egypt Seven wonders of the ancient world First 20 emperors of Rome Systems of the body

Other: French days of the week Personal information (address, phone numbers, etc.)

TJ has a daily recitation time each morning when we work on Scripture memory work, poetry, history or science lists, and any other miscellaneous topics. The following is a list of things TJ memorized during her second grade school year.

Scripture: Psalm 1 Psalm 121 I Corinthians 13:1-8 Books of the Old Testament Books of the New Testament

Poetry: The Goops The Little Man The Swing The Year The Vulture The Parts of Speech

History and Science Topics: Types of stars Planets in our solar system Phases of the moon Parts of the sun Rulers of England (to Elizabeth I) Canadian Provinces and Territories

Other: State of being verbs Helping verbs French months Prepositions

Third Grade Memorization

This system has continued to work very well for us and I plan to continue using it in the future. Here’s what TJ memorized this year:

Scripture: Psalm 91 Psalm 103 Apostles’ Creed The 10 Commandments in Verse 12 Apostles

Latin: Table Blessing The Doxology The Sanctus Poetry: A Slash of Blue Hurt no Living Thing The Bells A Time to Talk I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud A Tragic Story All Things Beautiful Singing The Land of Nod

Misc: Presidents of the United States (the first 18) French numbers

Fourth Grade Memorization

While reading about Classical education, one of the first things that made an impression on me was the many references to memorization, recitation, and daily drill. And the more we streamline our school day the more important these skills have become.

Here’s a list of what my daughter memorized during her 4th grade year:


  • The Height of the Ridiculous

  • The Lake Isle of Innisfree

  • Bed in Summer

  • Trees

  • Learning to Read

  • Ozymandias

  • Afternoon on a Hill

  • How Doth…

History & Science

  • First 11 Prime Ministers of Canada

  • Rulers of England to Elizabeth II

  • Presidents of the United States

  • Canadian National Anthem

Foreign Language

  • Latin Conjugations & Declensions

  • Days of Creation in French


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