Mnemonics (nih-Mon-icks) comes from the Greek word for "memory" and refers to using an aid to improve the efficiency of the memory. The strategy is used to encode and retrieve lists of information. The items in the list may or may not have to be remembered in a certain order.
Cue words or sentences are used in the mnemonics strategy. Directions for and examples of these mnemonics are given below.
The word or phrase used as a mnemonic should not require as much effort to remember as the items themselves. This would obviously defeat the purpose of the strategy. So, try to keep the cue words or phrases as simple as possible.
The most common mnemonic, the FIRST strategy, involves using the first letter of each word in a list to spell out one cue word. This method is easiest to use when the items in the list can be scrambled around in order to form simple cue words or sentences. Associating cue words with a visual image also aids in encoding and retrieval. This strategy was developed by Nagel, Schumaker, and Deshler (year).
- Form a cue word.
- Use the beginning letters of words in the list to make a word that is easy to remember.
- Use capital letters for all letters of the cue word that are found in the list.
- Insert a letter.
- Insert a new letter if the existing letters alone don't make a word.
- Use a lower case letter for the insertion so it will be clear that it doesn't mean anything.
- Rearrange the letters.
- If the order of the list items doesn't matter, move the letters around to form the easiest and most memorable cue word.
- Shape a cue sentence or phrase.
- If no cue word can be made, use the beginning letters of the words to make a sentence or phrase.
- Try combinations.
- Combine the above to find the most memorable sentence or word.
The following two examples illustrate the formation of mnemonic cue words to encode and retrieve information. The first example is for a list of items that must remain in a certain order, and the second example is for a list of items that can be shuffled around.
- The colors of the visible light spectrum:
- LIST: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet
- CUE WORD: ROY G. BIV
- ADDITIONAL ENCODING and RETRIEVAL AID: Picture a man walking on a colorful rainbow
- The names of the Great Lakes:
- ORIGINAL LIST: Erie, Superior, Michigan, Huron, Ontario
- REORGANIZED LIST: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior
- CUE WORD: HOMES
- ADDITIONAL ENCODING and RETRIEVAL AID: Picture a cluster of homes nestled around the clear blue water of a great big lake
The following two examples illustrate the formation of mnemonic cue phrases or sentences to encode and retrieve information. The first example is for a list of items that must remain in a certain order, and the second example is for a list of items that can be shuffled around.
- The order of math operations:
- LIST: Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition, Subtraction
- CUE PHRASE: Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally
- ADDITIONAL ENCODING and RETRIEVAL AID: Picture a dear old lady with gray hair making a math mistake at the blackboard - or picture your aunt's face
- The names of American authors:
- ORIGINAL LIST: Mark Twain, Washington Irving, Edgar Allen Poe, Carl Sandburg, Walt Whitman
- REORGANIZED LIST: Irving, Poe, Whitman, Twain, Sandburg
- CUE PHRASE: I Paid Way Too Soon
- ADDITIONAL ENCODING and RETRIEVAL AID: Picture yourself paying a bill before it is due - or picture a huge dollar bill