Mnemonics: 5 Types To Support Specific Student Needs

Have you ever worked with students that need to memorize large amounts of information and constantly complain that it is too hard!  Memory strategies are definitely the way to go in this situation. No, I’m not talking about brain training apps!  I’m talking about evidence-based strategies.

Give these a spin:

1) Take a guess. One of the best ways to remember a new word, it turns out, is to guess its meaning before you even know it. You’ll likely be wrong; however, just the act of guessing can help you remember the correct name when you’re told the answer.  This is an awesome strategy to utilize when trying to remember names.

2) Repeat, repeat, repeat. It’s well established that repetition is key to memory.   Mega-drilling, which is repeating something 30 times, has been especially powerful.  According to this technique, an individual is more likely to remember something at a later date if he/she actively recalled it at least 30 times when initially learning the information.

3) Create a mnemonic. Mnemonic strategies are systematic procedures for enhancing memory and making information more meaningful.  Educational research has repeatedly demonstrated that the way information is initially encoded facilitates the memory and the recall of this information much better for the learner. Fundamentally, mnemonic strategies find a way to relate new information to information that is already stored in long-term memory.

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There are many different types of Mnemonics.  Use the information below to help you determine what type you should utilize depending on the specific needs of your students.  

Note: Mastropieri and Scruggs (1998) define mnemonics as a systematic procedure for enhancing memory. They caution that mnemonics are not a comprehensive teaching method. Moreover, mnemonics are memory strategies, not comprehension strategies.

Keyword Mnemonics

Learning new vocabulary words and facts can be easier when students connect the new information with something that’s already familiar to them. The keyword method links a new word or concept to an easily recognized known word that sounds similar. The student creates a visual image depicting this connection, which makes the new information easier to store and retrieve as needed.

Follow the 3Rs when you are developing a keyword mnemonic.

Reconstructing: A keyword is a word that is familiar to the student’s vocabulary, can be easily developed into a picture, and sounds like the actual word that is to be learned.

Relating: Create a picture that depicts the keyword interacting with the definition.

Retrieve: Teach the process of how the student must go through the steps to effectively recall and remember the new vocabulary word and meaning.

Examples of keyword mnemonics:

  • Say your students need to learn the words for two different parts of the brain: cerebrum and cerebellum. Since the cerebrum is larger than the cerebellum, the keyword for cerebrum could be drum (a large instrument) and the keyword for cerebellum could be bell (a small instrument). Help your students remember that the cerebrum is the largest part of the brain by connecting it with the image of a drum, which makes a big sound and takes up a large amount of space. You can even draw a picture of a large drum in the brain where the cerebrum is located.
  • This strategy works especially well when you’re teaching challenging new vocabulary words. If you’re teaching the word “assail,” for example, use “sailboat” as the keyword to associate the new word with. Students can think of a sailboat crashing into someone to remember that “assail” means to attack someone with words or actions.

Pegword Rhyming Mnemonics

Pegwords—words on which new information can “hang”—are another effective way to link new information with familiar information. Using this strategy, the student learns rhymes that can be easily connected with new words, facts, or numbers.

Examples of pegword rhyming mnemonics:

  • Students who struggle with multiplication facts can be taught pegwords for the numbers being multiplied. To teach the math fact 6 × 6, teach the student to associate the pegword sticks with six. The mnemonic “sticks times sticks” would prompt the student to think of six sticks bundled together six times. Additional pegwords (“30 is dirty”) can help students remember answers to multiplication facts; for example, 6 × 6 (sticks × sticks) = 36 (dirty sticks).
  • Using pegword rhymes in the social studies classroom can help students remember important dates and facts. Sometimes using a rhyming pattern of words can make memorization easier and more fun. For example, to help students remember when the final two states were admitted into the Union, teach them the rhyme: ’59 was the date/When Alaska and Hawaii became new states.

Acronym Mnemonics

Acronyms are one of the most popular and widely used mnemonic strategies. Using this method, students memorize a single word in which each letter is associated with an important piece of information. This letter-association strategy is especially useful for remembering short lists of items or steps.

Examples of acronym mnemonics:

  • To help students remember the names of the five Great Lakes, share the acronym mnemonic HOMES with them: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior. You can help students create a link between the mnemonic and the new information with a script like this: If you get rid of all the letters of the lakes except the first letter in each name, you get HOMES. Think of all the homes that people live in right next to the Great Lakes. Because it’s very cold in the north, you need to live in a home to stay warm and cozy. When you think of all the HOMES near the Great Lakes, you’ll remember their names.”
  • If you’re teaching the different steps of the scientific method, students can use the acronym mnemonic HOMER to help them remember the steps in order: hypothesize, operationalize, measure, evaluate, and replicate.

Acrostic Letter Sentence Mnemonics

Acrostic letter mnemonics are similar to acronyms, except students memorize a simple silly sentence instead of a word to trigger their memory. The first letter of each word in the sentence correlates with an important fact they’re trying to remember. This is another great way to help students remember several pieces of interconnected information.

Examples of acrostic letter sentence mnemonics:

  • Use the sentence Sara’s Hippo Must Eat Oranges to help students remember the names of the Great Lakes in order of size: Superior, Huron, Michigan, Erie, Ontario. (To help students connect the sentence to the lakes, tell them to imagine that Sara lives near one of the lakes and think about how silly it is that an orange-eating hippo lives there, too.)

Combination Mnemonics

Mnemonic methods can also be combined—use keywords and acronyms together, for example, to form an extra-effective mnemonic super-strategy.

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