Elaborative Prompts to Enrich Free Recall

Jacqueline Wong

Research has shown that retrieval practice is an effective learning strategy. There are also many studies that have explored how retrieval tasks can be designed to increase its effectiveness. For example, effectiveness of retrieval practice can be enhanced by spacing out the retrieval attempts. Recently, Endres, Carpenter, Martin, and Renkl (2017) examined whether adding elaborative prompt to a free recall task would increase students’ performance when learning from a video lecture. 

In their experiment, 56 undergraduates were randomly assigned to either a free recall condition or a prompted recall condition. After watching a 30 minutes video lecture, students in the free recall condition were given a general instruction to recall all content that they can remember from the video lecture. On the other hand, students in the prompted recall condition received an elaborative prompt along with the general instruction. The elaborative prompt instructed students to relate to examples in their life that are consistent or in conflict with the learning material. The recall protocols were coded to measure use of learning strategies, such as organizational, metacognitive, and elaborative strategies. As expected, the results showed that students in the prompted recall group used more elaborative strategies, spent more time on task, and produced longer responses than students in the free recall group. Even though the prompted recall group performed better on the comprehension questions than the free recall group, the two groups had comparable scores on the facts questions. Further analyses revealed that the use of elaborative strategies led to longer responses. This, in turn, led to better comprehension. These results suggest that the efficacy of retrieval practice on comprehension can be enhanced by providing elaborative prompts.

In sum, adding elaborative prompts to enrich free recall tasks seems to be an effective instructional strategy. In addition to helping students remember the information to be learned, elaborative strategies can help to strengthen students’ understanding of the learning material. However, the study is conducted on a small group of undergraduates who watched only one video lecture. Future studies should continue to explore the effectiveness of prompted recall on other subject areas and other age groups. This will help us build a better understanding of the conditions required for elaborative prompts to enhance free recall. 


Endres, T., Carpenter, S., Martin, A., & Renkl, A. (2017). Enhancing learning by retrieval: Enriching free recall with elaborative prompting. Learning and Instruction, 49, 13-20.

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