Mnemonic Devices

What is a mnemonic device?

 A mnemonic is a little trick to help you to remember a fact. It can be a sentence, a song, a group of numbers, or a silly picture in your head. In fact, the sillier the idea is, the more likely you are to remember it because we tend to remember anything that has emotion (such as amusement) tied to it.

Think about this. Don’t you remember your nightmares more than your calmer dreams? Don’t you remember times that were embarrassing as if they just happened yesterday? The happiest holiday is the one you remember the most easily.

And how often is it that we remember the stupid words to a song we learned at camp better than we remember the actual words?

So, the things to remember when creating a mnemonic for yourself is to

  1. Try to associate it with something you are familiar with
  2. Make it memorable by giving it an emotion
  3. With a mental image, consider moving it on or beside your body
  4. If it’s a fact, consider giving it a tune or making it rhyme.

Here’s an example. Let’s say that you are trying to remember that World War II in Europe began in 1939 and ended in 1945.

Here are some possible mnemonics:

“Thirty nine didn’t look so fine,                                                                                                             Forty five, we’re gonna stay alive.”


Mentally picture 3’s and 9’s sliding down your left arm and 4‘s and 5’s sliding down your right arm.


TNFF (Thirty nine forty five)—“This Nazi fought fiercely.”


(To the tune of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star)

“Thirty nine the war began,

Forty five we got our man.”

I thought these up right off the top of my head as I was typing this, but I’ve had a lot of experience doing so. This is one of the things that I can help teach students to do themselves.

There are some tried and true mnemonics that many teachers use, and are which are quite helpful. Here are a few:

“When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking.” (As in “goat,” “rain,” “meat”)

The letter “e” is the boss. When he is beside another vowel, he always makes his sound. When he is at the end of the word, he yells to the other vowel, “Say your long name.”

“Oh, you little devil (ould) is in the words “would, could, and should.”

Practice thinking up your own.  It gets easier as you do it!


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