How Does Color-Coded Teaching Affect Memory Retention


This study utilized the mixed qualitative and quantitative approach to investigate the effect of color-coded teaching on memory retention. The former was used to analyze the effect of color-coded teaching on memory retention; however, the latter was used to analyze the ability to predict memory retention based on color-coded teaching. A combination of these designs has the advantage of showing the immediate effect of the phenomenon in question. Moreover, the mixed design is essential as it enables the researcher to obtain more comprehensive and reliable results, thus a greater understanding of the phenomenon.

Research Question: How does color-coded teaching affect memory retention?


100 preparatory female students aged between 18-19 years from King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, voluntarily participated in the study: the color group (the experimental group, n=50), and the non-color group (the control group, n=50). All the participants were Saudi and Arabic native speakers and were enrolled in the institution at the time of the study. Since the participants came from Middle Eastern countries, they had inadequate knowledge of the target language. In a similar manner to Dias de Oliveira (2015), convenience sampling was used, thus rendering the findings of these two studies more comparable.

All students were enrolled in the English class provided by the English Language Institute (ELI) at the university to learn English and to fulfill the requirements of college entry. The Preparatory Year English course offered at ELI is a certified program that consists of four levels: Beginner (ELIS 101), Elementary (ELIS 102), Upper Elementary to Pre-Intermediate (ELIS 103), and Intermediate (ELIS 104). The participants were given a project information sheet that elucidated what the learners might expect during the experiment. This was further explained by the researcher and a copy of the consent form.

Research Instruments

To see the efficiency of the color-coded teaching technique, the quantitative approach was used. It operated under a classroom experimental design that used the pre-test, post-test, and delayed post-test data collection instruments. Moreover, four English articles were selected for the study, and they included “a”, “an”, “some”, and “any”. The researcher chose the nouns as they are introductory and have fewer syllables, therefore, making it easy for the participants to memorize them. During classroom instruction, the control group was presented with articles that were in black and white, while the experimental group was presented with brightly colored articles.

On the other hand, in the qualitative approach, open-ended questionnaires were used to collect information. Such questionnaires are most popular in qualitative research as they are flexible and save time. Furthermore, it is usually considered to be considered more practical than interviews. The questionnaires were based on insights gained from other literature (Dias de Oliveira, 2015; Münchow, Mengelkamp, & Bannert, 2017). A series of open-ended questions were administered to both groups.

Ethical Issues

Participants were given consent forms issued by the Research Department in ELI for research concerning human subjects, as to their voluntary involvement in the study. The forms also contained information regarding the procedures of the experiment. The consent forms were translated into Arabic to ensure that the students properly understood their contents.


The study was conducted during regular class time. The experiment started with the researcher explaining its elements, and the participants signing a consent sheet as to their voluntary participation. Both groups were informed that the objective of the experiment was to evaluate second language acquisition. Moreover, none of the participants was informed of the hypothesis until after the data was collected to prevent bias. The experiment was conducted over four weeks.

Both groups, that is, the experimental and control group, were placed in separate rooms and each was presented with English grammar material in which that for the experimental group was color-coded, while that for the control group was in black and white. The conception of the content of the learning material (comprehension) and the integration of learning material into new situations (transfer) were the dependent variables that the researcher aimed to investigate. Comprehension was evaluated with the participants filling the blanks of 7 single choice questions with the most appropriate article (each item had four answer options).

To answer the questions, the learners were required to remember and integrate information obtained from the learning material. Conversely, to successfully answer the open-ended questions, the participants had to incorporate article definitions and applicability from various pages of the learning material to the new problems presented in the questions.

Six assessment sheets were used: a pre-test sheet that was used for evaluating if the learners had prior knowledge of the words in the experiment and five post-test sheets for evaluating the retention capability of the participants. The time frame for each exercise fluctuated between two to three minutes, depending on the length of the test. This test duration was deemed appropriate as the study focused on retention rather than learning, particularly, given the short exposure time that the subjects had to the four articles (two minutes each).

Classroom Intervention Materials

On the first day, the participants signed consent forms, thus voluntarily agreeing to participate in the study. Two different experimental conditions were employed, therefore, the control and experimental groups were assigned to two separate classrooms with each group being exposed to only one of the two experimental conditions, which were color-coded, and black and (a, an, any, some) through several examples. The color-coded group was being managed by the experimenter, while the latter was being led by a research assistant, an English professor at ELI. After clearing up the eventual questions, the experimenter progressed with the study. The data collection started in the fourth module, that is, ELIS 104; however, the test was first piloted on 90 students in the third module, and adjustments were made accordingly. During the first week of module four, the students took a placement test.

Pre-test (Placement test): The learners were allocated three minutes to write down the meaning of the words they would learn during the study and any other background information, for instance, their integration in sentences. The information obtained from the tests was essential in evaluating their previous knowledge of the experimental words.

  • Week 1 (The start of the actual experiment):
    • Day 1: The learning process constituted a three-part activity in which the articles were treated in isolation.
      • Step 1: The students were introduced to the indefinite English articles, which are “a” and “an”. The articles appeared on screen, one at a time, in precisely the same order across all conditions. For the experimental group, the articles were introduced in color (a and an), and for the control group, they were in black and white (a and an). This activity took 10 minutes.
      • Step 2: Ways in which the indefinite articles could be integrated into sentences was also presented on the screen in black and white for the control group and colored for the experimental group. This activity took 20 minutes.
      • Step 3: A test sheet (Immediate recall test) that was black and white, was given to both groups. The students were given two minutes to complete the test. In the process of language intake, the language has to be first grasped and processed in the short-term memory before it is transferred to the long-term memory where it is retained (Hamid, Nasri, & Ghazali, 2018).
    • Day 2: This comprised of a repeat of activities and the first post-test (PT1) which consisted of the test from the previous day. The repeat of learning materials took 15 minutes, while the PT1 took 2 minutes. This technique aimed to refresh the memory of the students and to investigate the effect of second-time exposure of newly learned material on recognition and memory.
  • Week 2:
    • Day 1: A second post-test (PT2) examining grammar material from week 1 was administered in the absence of any refresher material. The learners were given three minutes to complete the test.
    • Day 2: The students were introduced to the partitive English articles, which are “any” and “some”.
      • Step 1: Introduction to and the definition of “any” and “some” as partitive articles. The English articles appeared on screen, one at a time, in the same order across all conditions. For the experimental group, the articles were introduced in color (any and some), and for the control group, they were in black and white (any and some). This activity took 10 minutes.
      • Step 2: Ways in which the partitive articles could be integrated into sentences was also presented on the screen; in black and white for the control group and color for the experimental group. This activity took 20 minutes.
      • Step 3: A test sheet (Immediate recall test) that was black and white was given to both groups. Participants were given two minutes to complete the test.
  • Week 3:
    • Day 1: This comprised of a repeat of activities and a third post-test (PT3) of the learning material from the previous week on partitive articles. The repeat of material from the previous day took 15 minutes, while the PT3 test took 2 minutes. This step aimed to determine the degree and the effect of repetition of newly learned material on possible improvement in performance. Students were given two minutes to complete the test.
    • Day 2: Participants were given a fourth post-test (PT4) sheet relative to the grammar material on partitive articles. This was done in the absence of any refresher material. Learners were given three minutes to complete the test.
  • Week 4 (Final day of the experiment): It was a summation of all the learning material from the previous weeks. This was during the fourth module of level 103.
    • Day 1: Participants were given a fifth post-test (PT5) that constituted comprehensive learning material (both indefinite and partitive articles) from the previous weeks. Students were given three minutes to complete the test.
    • Day 2: 15 students from both experimental and controlled groups were given an open-ended questionnaire. They were selected from the two different classes to allow for the generalization of the study results. Groups of three to five students from each class were presented with the questionnaire in the presence of the researcher to provide help and support whenever needed. This relatively low number of students in groups was chosen because time was a limiting factor; therefore, a larger group appeared not to be feasible. The participants later filled out an evaluation sheet on which they expressed their opinion regarding the study. This enabled the researcher to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the experiment from the participants’ perspective, hence inculcating it into the analysis of the findings.

Scoring Procedure and Data Coding

The learning outcomes measured included comprehension and transfer. To measure comprehension, the pre-test and post-tests were rated concerning the number of correctly answered items. The total number of correct responses was averaged hence used as a comprehension index. This resulted in a score between 0-1, with 0 indicating the participants had answered all questions incorrectly and 1 indicating that all questions were answered correctly. The scoring of the items was conducted manually by the researcher and tripled checked for precision. Similar to Münchow et al. (2017), internal consistency was actable for study reasons.

On the other hand, to measure transfer, the learners were asked three open-ended questions. Following Glasser and Strauss’s grounded theory approach, the present analysis coded for categories that appeared as pertinent themes that were relevant to the research question. The grounded theory advocates for an inductive procedure of identifying key concepts which are based on data provided by participants.

As the central concepts materialized from the collected information, participants’ perceptions of the effect of color-coded learning were evaluated inductively. Moreover, using the methodological techniques presented in Charmaz (2014), the researcher employed initial coding strategies such as the line-by-line and word-by-word coding of data collected from the open-ended questionnaires. The researcher then used the analysis of these initial codes to formulate a systematic coding structure. Furthermore, the Nvivo software was used in creating memos that facilitated the summarization of central themes into clusters (Zamawe, 2015).

The researcher scored the answers from 0-3 points (0 = “wrong answer”, 1 = “using correct articles but incorrect relationships between them”, 2 = “using correct articles and partly correct linkages between them”, and 3 = “correct answer”). The mean score of the three items was utilized as an index for transfer resulting in a score between 0, indicating wrong answers in the three questions, and three, indicating correct answers in all the three questions. Based on the guidelines of Belotto (2018), interrater reliability was essential for the sample. The scoring of the items was conducted manually by the researcher and tripled checked for accuracy.


To investigate the quantitative aspect, SPSS 20.0 was used to analyze and obtain the statistical difference between the experimental and the control group. Moreover, to achieve the highest accuracy in the comparison, several statistical tests were employed. On the other hand, to investigate the qualitative data collected from open-ended questionnaires, the Nvivo program was used. Data was translated and coded using Nvivo to identify common themes.

Methodological Challenges

The present study has several constraints, for instance, the sample size was relatively small as it explicitly consisted of participants from four English classes at ELI; hence, this restricts the generalization of the results. Moreover, due to cultural and social restrictions, all the participants in the study were female students. This is because the present university was an all-female institution, and the all-male branch was located separately; therefore, it was challenging for the researcher to collect data from both genders. Finally, since the research focused on only a single university in the region, the study cannot be generalized.


Belotto, M. J. (2018). Data analysis methods for qualitative research: Managing the challenges of coding, interrater reliability, and thematic analysis. The Qualitative Report, 23(11), 2622-2633.

Charmaz, K. (2014). Constructing grounded theory (2nd ed.). London: Sage.

Dias de Oliveira, S. V. (2015). Can colors, voices, and images help learners acquire the grammatical gender of German nouns? Language Teaching Research, 19(4), 473–498.

Hamid, H., Nasri, N., & Ghazali, N. (2018). Colours as a form of corrective feedback in EFL learners’ writing. Journal of Language Studies, 18(4), 106-123.

Münchow, H., Mengelkamp, C., & Bannert, M. (2017). The better you feel the better you learn: Do warm colours and rounded shapes enhance learning outcome in multimedia learning? Education Research International, 2017(2148139), 1-15.

Zamawe, F.C. (2015). The implication of using Nvivo software in qualitative data analysis: evidence-based reflections. Malawi Medical Journal, 27(1), 13-15.