Green Decorative Wheat

Tools to Remember

One way to think of memory is the simple process of storing and recalling information. There are many techniques for storing information in a way that it can be recalled at will, and one of those techniques is through the use of mnemonic devices.

Mnemonic devices provide us a mental shortcut for storing information in a permanent and easily recalled way. Some learners devise mnemonic devices easily, and others benefit from being shown the technique. Here are a few useful (and ancient!) mnemonic devices you can use yourself and also with learners you work with:

  • Acronyms and acrostics: An acronym is simply a word or word-like set of letters that is built from the first letter of each word in a phrase. For example, if you've ever been asked to do something ASAP, then you have hear the acronym for "as soon as possible." Acrostics are similar to acronyms, but instead of making as single word from the first letter of each item to remember, the learner creates a phrase or sentence. For example, some learners are taught the phrase, "Kings play chess on fine grain sand," to remember, "kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species."
  • Rhymes: Rhymes and their cousin, music, have been used to aid in memory for much longer than the written word has existed. If you have to "sing the alphabet in your head" each time you need to think of the letters in order, then you have leveraged music for memory for a long time in your own life. And when did Columbus sail the "ocean blue"? Fourteen Hundred and Ninety-Two!
  • Method of Loci: Another very common mnemonic device is the use of a "memory castle," also known as a "method of loci." This is another ancient technique, going back at least as far as the Ancient Greeks in the Western tradition. To use the method of loci, visualize a place you know very well. Often people use their own home or the home where they grew up. Then, in a methodical way, and beginning at a set point (for example, the front door of your home) associate a mental image of each thing you want to remember with an item in your house. This technique is commonly used by competitive memory athletes to remember the order of random things like playing cards in a deck. Be careful using this technique in a class, however, as some sighted people have a "blind" mental eye and cannot use method of loci. This condition is called aphantasia, and learners with aphantasia will not be able to use method of loci in a traditional way.