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!


Different intelligences

What would the world be like if everyone had the exact same abilities? It wouldn’t be very creative or diversified, that’s for sure!

Many gifted teachers try to nourish each student’s abilities, but this is difficult to do in a large, busy classroom where specific facts and knowledge are required for end of year tests and passing on to the next grade.

Schools focus primarily on two types of abilities: verbal/linguistic and logical/mathematical. These abilities include the three R’s: reading, writing, and arithmetic. Obviously, these are very important skills to develop. However, this leaves out a large number of abilities that come naturally to some children. Most people have several areas in which they are uniquely gifted.

Some of the other areas in which people have special abilities are:

Visual spatial: This is the ability to visualize with your mind’s eye. This type of person doesn’t ever have to ask for directions and is often good at design, art, architecture, construction, and certain types of athletics.

Muscle movement: The person who has this ability is often athletic or very good with his/her hands. This includes athletes, dancers, actors, artists, craftspeople, and soldiers.

Social: These are people who have the strong ability to sense others’ moods, feelings, and temperaments, and who are very good at leading or working as part of a group. People who have good skills in this category may make good salespeople, politicians, teachers, lecturers, counselors, and social workers. It is interesting that about a third of famous entrepreneurs have dyslexia.

Intrapersonal: This area is related to knowing yourself and understanding your own feelings and motivations. These people may be excellent writers, storytellers, or philosophers.

Musical: People with this ability are sensitive to sound, rhythm, and pitch. Playing a musical instrument, composing, or singing may come easily to them. They may also be good poets.

Naturalistic: This skill relates to being in tune with nature and animals. This may include botanists, farmers, chefs, and veterinarians.

There are certainly other special abilities, also.

Why is this important when it comes to learning in school?

Everyone learns differently!

We can use our areas of strength to compensate for our areas of weakness. I, for example, am very bad at directions. If I use my verbal abilities and good memory to repeat directions in my head, or even say them out loud over and over, I can remember them much better. If I try to just visualize where I was going, I will get lost.

Rosa may have trouble writing out a story, but she can tell a story or act it out to make it fascinating to her audience.

Michael cannot remember the facts in his history book well unless he turns them into a poem or song.

So finding out what your best abilities are and what you have more trouble with can help you learn and achieve in school more easily.