The Magic of Mnemonics with Vocabulary and More

Remember this: “My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas”? Some of you may be more familiar with “My Very Earthly Mother Just Sat Upon Nine Pins”? Well, I guess with Pluto’s sad goodbye from our previous lineup of nine planets, it would now be “Mother’s Very Embarrassing Meatloaf Just Stunk Up Nashville”... I think we all know I made that one up but I’m sure the humorous image is now emblazoned on your mind. And with this image --and a chuckle-- you can easily use it to name the 8 planets of our solar system to date.

A mnemonic, or a memory device, is any pattern of letters, images, ideas, or associations that helps one remember something. Using mnemonics to learn and retain challenging vocabularyor information is one of the best tools for children to use. A high level of vocabulary not only helps your child navigate through verbal sections in high-stakes tests like a pro, it is undeniably linked to his or her everyday level of comprehension, processing speed, and written expression. The ability to readily recall key information is also indispensable in every aspect of your child’s education and is a cognitive skill that they need through college and beyond.

So what are some ways you can help your child use mnemonics to remember important information or vocabulary?

1.     Make acronyms: Rearrange the beginning letters of keywords to make a new and simple word to remember.

Example) The 5 things students should check for after writing can be remembered using the acronym “C-TOPS” -- read like “See Tops” -- which stands for capitalization, tense, organization, punctuation, and spelling.

2.     Come up with a story: Use similar sounding words to come up with a “story” or a short sentence. This is a win-win technique since it also exercises your child’s phonemic awareness!

Example 1) Students can remember capital cities of states with “stories” like this one about Maine: “Hold onto your hat, a mighty gust of wind is blowing down Main Street!” This can conveniently be shortened to “A gust of (Augusta) wind on Main (Maine) Street”.

Example 2) Students can remember the meaning of the word “arduous” with the short illustrative sentence: “The arduous snow-covered trail was hard on us.”

3.     Draw a cartoon or image: Any kind of visual aid helps many learners and a drawing or image that goes along with your verbal mnemonic can be particularly helpful.

Example) You can easily draw an image like this one to reinforce the following vocabulary mnemonic with visual learning:

4.  Rhyme: Dr. Seuss proved to us a long time ago that anything in a rhyme is fun to say. Simply rhyme the ending words of different facts or ideas to create an easy mnemonic that your child will love to repeat. 

            Example) In 1607, the English crossed the sea,  And Jamestown, Virginia became their colony!

5. Movement: Remember that any of these mnemonics can be paired with movement to activate the cerebellum and increase retention (please see blog post, “Movement and Learning” for more information). Movement can be anything from clapping hands to bouncing/throwing a ball to jumping up and down so be creative according to movements or exercises your child finds fun.

6. And lastly... get silly together: Children love silly words, stories, sentences, pictures, and rhymes that make them giggle. The more they find mnemonics fun, the more they'll want to use them. What better scenario can we think of than our children laughing and learning at the same time? So don't hesitate to channel your creativity and imagination into creating silly learning mnemonics that will stay with your child. After all, you don't have to be a kid to still chuckle at "Mother's Very Embarrassing Meatloaf Just Stunk Up Nashville".