I forgot, What’s the next step? What is this called? You may have heard all of these phrases from your students at some point or another. Wouldn’t it be great if students could use memory techniques to help them retain information? Some of you may not place much emphasis on memorization, and may tend to focus more on reasoning, problem solving, and critical thinking skills. However, memorization is one of the beginning key steps in the learning process. We can’t expect our students to utilize these skills effectively if they cannot remember facts, the steps in a procedure, or any other important items. A new skill or concept is easier to learn and memorize if it fits into what students already know. It is helpful if students can link the new information in some way to something they already know. Some questions you may be asking yourselves right now are How does the memory work? Why do we not remember things? These are important things to consider. Today we will talk about the memory and how it works and what strategies we can incorporate to help your students retain information. My goal is that by the end of this presentation, you as teachers will have a better understanding of how the memory works and the techniques that can be used to help your students retain information and thus increase their chances of learning.
This theory focuses on the basic steps in the ways individuals obtain, code, and remember information. It does differ from other learning theories you may know of such as Skinner’s Operant Conditioning and Gagne’s conditions of learning. First, the information processing theory builds off of the ideas of several theorists. One result is the variation in the descriptions of the ways that long-term memory stores information. Second, the basis of the theory is simply information processing and not learning. The theory does not address the specific outcomes of learning. The essential components of learning are the organization of information to be learned, the learner’s prior knowledge, and the processes involved in perceiving, understanding, and storing and retrieving information. There are two basic assumptions under the information processing theory. The first is that memory is an active, organized processor of information. Information gets moved around to different parts of memory. It is an interacting mechanism. The second is that prior learning plays a role in new learning. It provides a foundation. There needs to be some tie to previous learning. Ultimately, learning is efficiently and effectively storing and retrieving information.
There are four basic parts to this model, which include the sensory registers, short-term memory, long-term memory, and the executive control processes. The sensory registers identify useful information or information that gets our attention. This process happens very quickly. It usually occurs in a half a second. Once this information has been identified, it is moved to the short-term memory. Here, one of two things happens. The information is either used and discarded or the information is encoded and prepared for movement into long-term memory. Once the information is moved into long-term memory, it is stored permanently. The executive control processes basically oversee all of these functions and evaluate what is going on in each of the different levels. Another way of looking at the multi-stage model is to view it in terms of the processes associated with computers. The sensory registers would be the keyboard in this instance where the information is picked up. The information is then moved to the temporary storage part of the computer known as the RAM or short-term memory as identified in the multistage model. From there it moves to the long-term memory or the hard drive in this case which is permanent storage.
Encoding acts on perceived information so that it can be retained in long-term memory and retrieved later when needed. This process occurs in the state known as working memory. However, it is important to note that the capacity of working memory is limited. A known rule for the capacity of working memory has been described as “seven plus or minus two” This concept refers to the number of items or chunks that can be held at one time unless the learner takes the action to retain the information. The accessibility of information at a later point in time from long-term memory depends significantly on the way it was encoded. The more ways a learner encodes information, the greater the chances of retrieval. The way that information is encoded has a significant impact on whether these specific items and facts are forgotten, stored as isolated fragments, or integrated into a larger structure. There are two major types of encoding strategies, which are primary rehearsal and elaborative rehearsal. Primary rehearsal is basically repeating the information such as names, definitions, etc. over and over. The information is easily forgotten because this strategy does not connect the information to something the student already knows. In contrast, the other strategy known as elaborative rehearsal, transforms the information in some way. It may be modified so that it relates to the learner’s prior knowledge, replaced by another symbol, or supplemented by additional information to aid in recall. The process of forming additional connections to material already learned leads to the development of elaborated structures in memory. Redundancy of the information to be stored is increased and alternate routes for later retrieval are developed.
Mnemonics are common strategies of elaborative rehearsal. They facilitate learning by making use of initially irrelevant material to the information being learned. Mnemonics are a memory enhancing instructional strategy that involves teaching students to link the new information being taught to information they already know. Mnemonics can be used in different academic subjects including language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, and foreign languages. Use of this instructional strategy does not require a wealth of additional materials or extensive planning and preparation time. Many studies have validated the effectiveness of mnemonic strategies. Recent research has shown that mnemonic devices are enjoyable, engaging, and successful strategies that can improve students’ academic performances by helping them retain more information. These studies have indicated that students who used a mnemonic strategy to study repeatedly outperformed the other students who did not use them. Changing the way information is encoded, can lead to better retrieval of information and improved test scores. Although mnemonic devices do not help students better understand material, retaining information is still an important part of the learning process. Research suggests that memory, content knowledge, and learning strategies all have an impact on a student’s performance. To be effective memory cues, mnemonics should meet three criteria: 1) they should be reliable in that they can be easily generated at the time of recalling the information, 2) the mnemonics must be linked easily to the new information to be learned, and 3) the cues must be unlike each other and easily identified as different. If this does not occur, more than one piece of information can become linked to the same memory cue resulting in confusion or being unable to retrieve the correct item.
Acronyms are one of the most familiar mnemonic strategies. Acronyms are words made up of the first letters of other words. They can help individuals remember the first letters of items in a list, which in turn helps the individual remember the list itself. The acronyms may be pronounced letter by letter or at times they also form an actual word themselves. It is important to note that knowing the first letter of words are not a strong clue to the words themselves unless the individual already has a general idea of what they are. However, acronyms are still a simple and easy memory technique, which can be very effective An acronym used to help remember the colors of the spectrum is ROY G BIV The letters stand for red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. ALORE is an acronym used in accounting. It stands for Assets, Liabilities, Owner’s Equity, Revenues and Expenses. It is also helpful in explaining the elements of the accounting equation, the notion of debits and credits, and the principles of the basic accounting cycle. When trying to create your own acronyms, there are five simple steps you can use (1) List the information you need to learn in meaningful phrases (2) Circle or underline a keyword in each phrase (3) Write down the first letter of each keyword (4) Rearrange the letters into a memorable acronym (5) Practice the association from the acronym to the keyword and then from the keyword to the meaningful phrase.
A second common mnemonic device is the acrostic, which is similar to the acronym. Like acronyms, the first letter of each word is used to assist recall, however, instead of making a new word, the letters create a sentence. It is recommended to choose words that can create an interesting sentence, which will make the new information easy to remember. A funny, easy-to-remember sentence that represents the terms in a set of information, as well as the sequence will make it easier to remember large amounts of information. At times, it is difficult to create an easy to remember acronym from letters and it may be more appropriate to create a sentence by using acrostics. An acrostic used to help remember the order of mathematical operations is My Dear Aunt Sally. This sentence helps remember the steps of multiply and divide before you add and subtract. An acrostic used to remember the order of taxonomy is King Phillip Came Over for the Good Spaghetti. This helps remember kingdom, phylum, class, order, genus, and species. When trying to create an acrostic you can follow five simple steps: (1) List meaningful phrases each on a separate line (2) Circle or underline the first letter of each phrase (3) Write the first letter of each keyword on a new line (4) Create a sentence (an acrostic) from the first letters of each keyword (5) Practice the association from the acrostic to the keywords.
A rhyme is a saying that has similar ending sounds at the end of each line. Rhymes help us remember information since it encodes the information based off of the sound. A rhyme that helps us remember when Columbus discovered America is “In fourteen hundred ninety-two Columbus sailed the Ocean blue. An additional rhyme that can help us remember the amount of days in each month are Thirty days hath September, April, June, and November;All the rest have thirty-one, save February, with twenty-eight days clear and twenty-nine each leap year.
Songs are another mnemonic strategy that can be used to remember items. The same method used to recall song lyrics can work just as well for academics. Music can be used to help students recall important details to main ideas and many learners have made songs out of information when a list of items must be learned. Some of you may have experienced this strategy from the advertising on television. Marketers use music to help potential customers remember their products when shopping. Children learn the ABC’s by singing the ABC song, which is based off of the song twinkle-twinkle. There was also a recent article on a student that used Disney tunes to help her remember theories and steps for her calculus class. The student was one of a handful that received an A in the class.
One of oldest mnemonic strategies, however, probably one of most rarely used is the method of loci. The term loci are the plural of locus, which means location or place. This technique operates under the assumption that individuals can best remember places that they are familiar with. Consequently, if you associate something you need to remember with a location or place that you know very well, the location or place will serve as a memory cue. The poet, Simonides is known as the inventor of the method of loci. He would memorize a set of items by imagining them in certain locations in a room and would then mentally walk around the room in order to remember the items. This strategy is very effective for remembering lists of items, important points in a speech, names of individuals at an event, or things on a to-do list. This strategy changes the way we remember by using familiar locations to serve as memory cues for things. This method can be used with a variety of areas (homes, buildings, workplace), however, the key to its effectiveness, is that each place in the location be distinct from one another. First, think of a familiar place, such as your house. Next, picture a series of locations in the house in order. For example, you may picture the path you normally take in your house to get from the front door to the back door. You may start at the front door, and then go through the hall and then to your living room and so on. Each piece of furniture can also serve as a location. You place each item that you want to remember at one of the locations. When you want to remember these items, you will visualize your house and go through the same paths to remember the items that you associated with each location. For example if you are trying to remember a list of grocery items, you may associate apples with the door knob on the front door, and hot dogs with the sofa in the living room.
A similar mnemonic strategy to the method of loci is the peg system. However, instead of using a series of locations as memory cues, a list of images corresponding to numbers or letters is used to help individuals remember information. The main advantage of the peg system is that it allows the recall of any word at a given numerical location. This gives you access to the information you want to remember either in order or out of order. Unlike the method of loci, you do not need to go through a whole path to remember an item. The disadvantage is that you have to memorize a set of peg images ahead of time. The peg system can be used to remember ideas and concepts and to organize activities as well as to remember lists. There are different types of peg systems. The most well known peg system is the rhyming peg in which numbers from one to ten are associated with rhymes: one-bun, two-shoe, and so on. This system is very easy to use. In order to use the system, you must memorize the words that rhyme with numbers one through ten. Most peg system don’t include a peg word for zero however, you always have the option of making up one. A second peg system is the alphabet peg system. With this system, each image rhymes with the letter of the alphabet it represents or it has the letter as the initial sound of the word. The alphabet peg system might be: A = hay, B = bee, C = sea. Peg words can be created that rhyme with a sound similar to the letters of the alphabet that they represent. Other Peg Systems - You can also select peg words on the basis of meaning: one = me (there is only one "me"); three = pitchfork (it has three prongs); five = hand (five fingers on a hand). Numbers make good peg words because they have a natural order, and everyone is familiar with them. Unfortunately, this system has very limited use because it is difficult to find good peg words to represent numbers that go beyond ten. However, some examples may use 11 for lever or 13 for thirsting.
It is important to confirm that the students do have a memory deficit and not an attention deficit. Students will not remember something that they were not paying attention to. Teachers also need to reflect upon their own teaching practices. Were strategies employed that gained the students’ attention? A review of what other interventions have been used is also needed as well as the need to ask the students about their thoughts on their difficulty in recalling information. A mnemonic device that can be used in more than one subject area will be significantly more effective than a mnemonic device that is used in only one setting. It is important to see how students are performing in other subject areas and if mnemonics would also be helpful in those other areas. Discussions with the teachers from the other subject areas if applicable will also facilitate the implementation of mnemonics. A mnemonic device will not be effective if a student refuses to use it as part of their learning process. Provide examples to the students and give them clear explanations of what the strategy entails. Students should also be aware of where they stand academically and how the mnemonic device can help improve their performance. Students will be more motivated to incorporate the mnemonic device if they believe it will help improve their recall of information. Implement one mnemonic device at a time and monitor the students’ progress. The mnemonic device needs to be taught. You cannot expect students to understand the device simply because the device was explained to them for one day. Some students may need the mnemonic device broken down into parts while others may see it modeled and will be able to begin using it immediately. Provide students with a “cheat sheet” with the main steps involved with the mnemonic device.
Evaluation is an important step in determining the effectiveness of a mnemonic device. Collect data on your students’ progress from homework and exam scores. Review the scores for any improvement over time after the mnemonic device has been implemented. Ask your students reflective questions about the mnemonic device. How do they feel the mnemonic device is working? Do they enjoy using the mnemonic device? Explore opportunities to use the mnemonic device in other settings and have a discussion with students about using the mnemonic device in other classes. The evaluation and feedback steps should be repeated at various times while implementing a mnemonic device. This will allow teachers and students to have clear evidence of any positive impact of the mnemonic device.
Are there any questions or comments on what we’ve covered so far?
We have seen that some mnemonic devices share similar characteristics while others are quite distinguishable from one another. You may feel that certain mnemonic devices will work better within your grade level and area of content. There are very creative ways of developing mnemonic devices, which can help your students recall various types of information. Lets try to put what we’ve covered so far into practice. I’m going to divide the audience into groups and I will assign 2 mnemonic devices to each group. In 30 minutes, I would like each group to try to come up with at least 2 examples of each of the assigned mnemonic devices. Please make sure your created mnemonic devices address your grade level and or content area. We will then take about 15 minutes to have each group share their examples.
Mnemonic devices are effective tools to improve the recall of information. Although they do not directly help students understand, retaining information is an important part of the learning process. If students cannot remember certain terms or steps in a procedure, it will be difficult for them to continue to progress and further apply their knowledge. There are also a variety of mnemonic devices that we went over today. They each encode information in such a way, which facilitates information recall. Acronyms, Acrostics, Rhymes, Songs, Method of Loci, and Peg Systems all use different strategies to aid in information recall. As teachers, you should encourage the use of mnemonic devices in the classroom. However, it is important to implement their use in an appropriate manner by discussing the strategy with your students and continually monitoring their academic progress. Mnemonic devices are inexpensive strategies that can help your students retain information in a simple and enjoyable manner.
Memory Techniques for
December 10, 2012
What’s the next
What is this
• Addresses how we obtain, code and
• Differs from other learning theories
• Basic assumptions of the information
Executive Control Processes
• Capacity of working memory
• Primary Rehearsal
• Elaborative Rehearsal
• What are they?
• Are they effective?
• What makes a good mnemonic
• Word and letter structures
• ROY G BIV
• Creating acronyms
• Sentence structures
• My Dear Aunt Sally
• King Philipp Came Over for the
• Creating acrostics
• Use sounds to aid information recall
• Columbus discovering America
• The number of days in each month
• Use lyrics to aid information recall
• The ABC song
• Disney tunes for calculus concepts
Method of Loci
• Uses locations or places for
• How is it used?
• Example: The use of a house. The
items to be remembered are
associated with certain locations in the
• Associates images with numbers
• Types of Peg Systems
1. Rhyming Pegs
2. Alphabet Pegs
3. Other Pegs
• Determine that memory deficits exist
• Identify subject areas where
mnemonics can be applied
• Discuss the mnemonic device
• Teach the mnemonic device
• Evaluate the mnemonic device
• Receive student feedback
• Continuous monitoring and evaluation
of the mnemonic device
• Create mnemonic devices with your
• Apply the mnemonic devices to your
grade level and/or content areas
• Mnemonic devices assist in retaining
information which is an important part
of the learning process
• There a variety of mnemonic strategies
that can be used in the classroom
• Teachers should encourage the use of
mnemonic devices but must also
incorporate them in an appropriate
Access Center. (2004). Using Mnemonic Instruction to Facilitate Access to the General
Education Curriculum. Access Center. Retrieved on November 4, 2012, from
Conroy, P., & Collins, P. (2012). Mnemonic Devices for Braille Instruction. Insight:
Research & Practice In Visual Impairment & Blindness, 5(1), 47-52.
DuVivier, R. L. (2008). 100% Online Student Success. Delmar Cengage Learning.
Grant, K. (2011). Using Mnemonic Devices to Earn Good Grades. ABC News.
Retrieved on November 8, 2012, from http://abcnews.go.com/Health/mnemonic-
Gredler, M. E. (2009). Learning and Instruction: Theory Into Practice. Up Saddle
River, NJ:Prentice Hall.
Kleinheksel, K. A., & Summy, S. E. (2003). Enhancing Student Learning and Social
Behavior Through Mnemonic Strategies. Teaching Exceptional Children, 36(2), 30-35.
Laing, G. (2010). An Empirical Test of Mnemonic Devices to Improve Learning in
Elementary Accounting. Journal of Education for Business, 85(6), 349-358.
Massen, C., Vaterrodt-Plunnecke, B., Krings, L., & Hilbig, B.E. (2009). Effects of
Instruction on Learners’ Ability to Generate an Effective Pathway in the Method of Loci.
Memory, 17(7), 724-731.
Mohs, Richard C.. "How to Improve Your Memory" 17 May
2007. HowStuffWorks.com. <http://health.howstuffworks.com/human-
body/systems/nervous-system/how-to-improve-your-memory.htm> 20 November 2012.