By Celeste Kellar

Mnemonic instruction has been used in the teaching of children since the inception of the education system. Most adults can easily recall the familiar mnemonic rhymes of “i before e except after c” and “30 days hath September,” etc. Comedian Brian Regan recalls in his comedy act an interaction with his elementary school teacher regarding the “i before e…” mnemonic. When asked to recite the rule, Regan replies, “I before e… always.”  His teacher corrects him with the following, “I before e except after c, or when sounding like ay as in neighbor or weigh, and on weekends, and holidays, and all throughout May, and you’ll always be wrong, no matter what you say!”  Regan’s response? “Boy, that’s a hard rule!”  On the television show, Survivor, an immunity challenge involved the memorization of symbols that were transferred into an equation to solve the puzzle. Contestants ran back and forth trying to remember the sequence while one contestant, Stephen, spent an inordinately long time studying the symbols. He then ran back to the puzzle and correctly filled in the symbols and won the challenge. When Jeff Probst, host of Survivor, asked how he was able to remember the sequence correctly after only looking at it one time, he explained that he assigned a number to each of the seven symbols and then was able to recall the sequence very quickly, like a 7-digit telephone number. This was a very practical application of a mnemonic strategy, winning Stephen’s immunity at the tribal council.

The use of mnemonics in the education of students with learning disabilities is a key strategy in helping students retain important information. There is no academic area that cannot utilize mnemonic strategies to improve student memory. Mnemonics allow students to link the information they know with the information they want to learn. Most phonics programs utilize the keyword strategy in that they are based on the associations between letters and pictures such as “apple-a,” “elephant-e,” etc. Through the association of the keyword, students create a link between the picture symbol and the letter sound thereby creating both a verbal and visual link in aiding the retrieval of the information.

Another mnemonic technique is the letter strategy. We all learned the names of the five Great Lakes by remembering the acronym, HOMES, with each letter of the word standing for the beginning letter of the name of each of the lakes (Heron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior.)  Even the most unscientific student can remember the names and order of the eight planets by stating, “My very educated mother just served us nachos!”  The best thing about the utilization of the letter strategy for creating mnemonic acronyms is that students can easily create their own, thereby taking ownership of the process.

Mnemonics are fun! They are fun for the students to create and fun for them to remember. They will always remember how to spell “principal” because they will remember that the principal is always their “pal.”  They will remember that the “secretary” keeps all the “secrets,” and they will remember they always spell “dessert” with a double “s” because everyone always wants two desserts!

Read More About it!

“i before e (except after c)-Old-School Ways to Remember Stuff” by Judy Parkinson

“Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge: The Book of Mnemonic Devices” by Rod L. Evans

“Thirty Days Has September: Cool Ways to Remember Stuff” by Chris Stevens

“Never Eat Soggy Waffles: Fun Mnemonic Memory Tricks” by Patricia Murphy

 “Mrs. Riley Bought Five Itchy Aardvarks and Other Painless Tricks for Memorizing Science Facts” by Brian P. Cleary