The Memory Tray

Thinking & Engaging
Thinking & Engaging

This activity seeks to enhance working memory by having participants hold the images of the objects on the try in the working memory when an object is removed from the tray. When the tray is returned, the participants will attempt to retrieve the image of the objects on the tray through manipulating the working memory in order to identify which object is missing.


  • Large tray or small table
  • Various random objects that fit on a tray (ie. ring, pencil, candy, toy, paper clip, etc.)
  • A quiet room


Working memory is the part of our remembering system that only pays attention to immediate information or information that happens in the present. It is always “working” even though we don’t usually pay conscious attention to it. It picks up on the colours, sounds, smell, taste, texture of something, and even positioning, and stores that information in our brain for as tiny bit of time. The working memory can then manipulate that information and move it to our short term memory (things like what we ate for breakfast or what we did on the weekend) or our long term memory (who our parents are or where we live), depending on how often or how intensely we perceive that information. Just like how we can exercise our muscles to keep them healthy, we can also exercise our brains to keep them sharp.


  1. A tray of items is presented to the group and they are given a few minutes to try to memorize them.
  2. After a short time, the group either closes their eyes or leaves the room briefly. During this time, remove an object from the tray.
  3. Invite the group to reopen their eyes or return to the room and present to them the tray.
  4. Participants then will try to guess what the missing object is. Whether they can guess or not, after a few moments of guessing, reveal the missing object and move on to another round. Always presenting the full tray to the group first.
  5. You may want to do a short one-question debrief after each round or a larger one at the end. Play as many rounds as you like.


  • Depending on your group’s age or skill level, increase or decrease the number of numbers, the amount of time, or even the size, and consider combinations of these factors.
  • Keep this activity completely silent and confidential by having the group right down their guess on a piece of paper.
  • Also, instead of removing an object and having the group guess the missing object, consider presenting the full tray of objects, removing it, then have them try to write down every object they can remember.


  • Some participants have better working memory than others, so encourage an atmosphere of positivity.
  • Sounds can be extremely distracting when trying to tap into our working memories, so be sure that the space is as quiet and low in foot traffic as possible, and encourage your group’s responsibility for contributing to the quiet atmosphere by remaining silent until prompted to speak.


After ending the activity, reconvene for a brief reflection by posing to them some questions like:

  • What strategies did you use to remember the objects?
  • Do you think you could better at it?

Submitted by Somerset West community Health Centre.

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