Memorization Tips for All Subjects

Using Mnemonics to Improve Memory

Why does our memory not always work?  We asked that question of Jim Sarris, a veteran teacher and author of two books on memory strategies: Comic Mnemonics for Spanish Verbs and Memory Skills Made Easy. We thank him for his time and advice.  Our discussion was very enlightening and gave us some great tips for improving memory.

Have fun using one or more of these learning tips
in your homeschooling this week.

Mnemonics is the general name for those “little sayings” such as “i before e except after c;” that work as memory aids.  The topic of mnemonics actually encompasses a variety of devices. Many which includes pictures, rhymes, and using letters to make a sentence.

Mnemonics fall into five main technique categories:

  1. ACROSTIC– This technique is the most common and is created by using the first letter of each word to make a sentence.  Examples include:
  • “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally,” which designates the mathematical order of operations (Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition, Subtraction) and
  • “My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas,” which refers to the order of the planets from the sun (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto)
  1. ACRONYMS– Acronyms are formed by taking the first letter of each word to form a new word.  This technique is often used in organizations and businesses (NASA, IBM) but is quite effective as a memory technique as well because the student only needs to remember one word rather than several.  Examples of this include:
  • HOMES, which is to remember the names of the Great Lakes (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior)
  • UCAN, which is the name of the four states that meet at one point (Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico.)
  1. KEYWORD– This is a two-step process that requires the student to first think of a word that reminds them of the concept they are trying to remember and then come up with a sentence (and/or image) that combines the two to represent the meaning.   For example:
  • The French word dormir means to sleep so a sentence that a student could use would be Norm sleeps in the Dorm (which has the bonus of rhyming.)
  1. ROMAN ROOM– This technique is especially effective for memorizing long lists such as presidents of the United States, the classification of plants, or the layers of the Earth. Students can use the technique by thinking of a their favorite room and imagining themselves looking from left to right, picking out the pieces of furniture. They then take the information they want to remember and attach one “piece” of it to a certain piece of furniture.  For example:
  • To remember the first ten states to ratify the Constitution of the United States, students make connections between the states and the furniture in the room.  For instance, Delaware was the first state; a student may connect Delaware to a Dell computer, then think of Delaware sitting on top of the computer.  Pennsylvania, the second state, may connect to a pencil, a really huge pencil sitting on a desk, with Pennsylvania on top of it.  To store the information students imagine states in a room fighting over who gets to ratify the constitution first. To retrieve the information students then make their way through the room in their mind and make the connections to the information again.
  1. PEG WORDS– Peg words involve using an organized numbering system to connect to ideas or words that need to be learned in order. First, the student creates a rhyming word to go with each step (or peg) of the organizational structure that will help to recall it quickly.  For example:
  • In a numerical system, a student may use 1-bun, 2-shoe, 3-tree, etc. Then, when trying to recall something in numerical order, the presidents of the United States, for instance, the student will connect the first name in the list to 1 – bun by first finding an image to connect to George Washington (perhaps a washing machine?) then connecting the washing machine to a bun (1-bun) by picturing a hotdog bun trying to put something into a washing machine.

Jim’s Advice:

1) Children can be really creative in selecting images and connecting them to their cue words. And students who may not necessarily consider themselves creative can also enjoy the system.

2) Mnemonics is a great tool for homeschooling families because there is more of an emphasis on individual learning, which allows kids to create their own mnemonic devices to meet their individual needs.

3) Auditory, kinesthetic and visual learners can all use mnemonic devices since they are so adaptable. Visual learners take to them very easily, rhyming and rhythmical devices work very well for auditory learners, and kinesthetic learners can create stories around information where they “walk around the room” as they make their connections.