Association strategies for remembering operate on the contention that in order to best remember any new piece of information, it must be associated to something else. The association occurs because the new information is tied to a piece of prior, familiar information or to a less difficult piece of information. Associations enhance the strength of memory traces and provide a structure for retrieval.
Several association strategies are discussed below: visual association (visual imagery), substitute word strategy, chaining (link system), comparison, concept cards, peg words, rhymes, songs and poems, name association, marvelous memory car, and mnemonics. Additional association manipulations are briefly outlined elsewhere in this page.
Association Strategies Menu
- Visual Association (Visual Imagery)
- Substitute Word Strategy
- Chaining (Link System)
- Comparison Strategy
- Concept Cards (Flash or Index Cards)
- Peg Words
- Rhymes, Songs, and Poems
- Name Association
- Marvelous Memory Car
Visual Association and Visual Imagery
Imagery is the ability to produce mental pictures of things that have previously been seen or can be imagined visually. Visual associations (REFERENCE) are used to facilitate memorization when old, familiar images are associated with images of information to be remembered.
Students often use this method unconsciously as a means of remembering information. They can become more efficient by recognizing the process and working to make images more vivid.
Material from a wide variety of subjects may be symbolized and remembered using visual associations. Abstract concepts and events as well as things may be entered into memory using the strategy.
Visual association is similar to visual elaboration, except that visual association relies on linking to images that already exist in memory while visual elaboration does not. In addition, visual association is usually done by the student him/herself and is not usually written down. See the Visual Elaboration section of this page for more information on this related strategy.
Directions for the visual association strategy are as follows:
- Identify the new information to be remembered.
- Identify an image from existing knowledge that reminds you of the new information.
- Make the image large, exaggerating features and enlarging it to unusual or unnatural proportions.
- Make the image as bizarre or unusual as possible.
- Produce associations that are different from what might be expected.
- Images may be still or, better yet, animated. When motion is added to a mental picture, it helps the mind to retain it.
- Add sounds or smells to the image if you can.
Two examples illustrate how one might apply the visual association memory strategy.
- To remember that the Boston Tea Party occurred in 1773, imagine a sailing ship with costumed people throwing boxes of tea over the side. Above this ship imagine the numbers "1773" flashing on a neon sign in the sky. Smell the salt water and listen to the sound of crashing waves.
- To remember the parts of a computer's central processing unit (arithmetic-logic unit, control unit, clock, registers, and bus), image a large, loud yellow bus dropping people off at an office, where a controlling boss barks out orders, an employee works feverishly on math problems and enters the answers on oversized blue registers, and a huge neon digital clock hangs over everyone's heads.
Substitute Word Strategy
The substitute word strategy (REFERENCE) is similar to visual association (visual imagery). But unlike visual association, the substitute word strategy is used to remember information that cannot be readily pictured in the mind, such as abstract information, technical words, foreign words, numbers, names, and vocabulary. A word that conveys no image is associated with a well-known word that does have an image and sounds like part of the word to be remembered. That image is then used to remember the original word.
The key to using the substitute word strategy is imagination. It is often difficult to find a substitute word and imagine that fit comfortably. Students should remember that the idea is to have a cue or association that will work. It doesn't matter how outlandish the image is as long as it is effective.
Directions for using the substitute word strategy are as follows.
- Identify the word or term to be remembered.
- Think of a well-known with a strong image that sounds similar to the new word. Use the guidelines given in Visual Association for developing an effective image.
- Link the image to the new word.
Two examples of the substitute word strategy are as follows.
- To remember that crabs are crustaceans, picture a crab eating, carrying or walking on a large crust of bread.
- To remember the parts of a flowering plant, three substitute words and images may be used.
- For the petal, picture a flower pedaling a bicycle.
- For the stamen, use the words steam and men. Picture men emitting steam from their bodies or surrounded by steam. Hissing noises associated with the steam or the smell of sweat make the picture more vivid. The steam image could be tied more closely to flowers if an image were made showing a flower wilting in a steam room or growing out of a steaming teapot tended by a group of men.
- For the pistil, picture one evil-looking flower with a pistol holding up a cowering flower.
Chaining (Link System)
Chaining, also known as the link system (REFERENCE), is a memory strategy in which mental pictures or associations are made between two items at a time. The first item helps to remember the second, the second item helps to remember the third, and so on until a "chain" of associations is made for as many items as need to be remembered. This strategy can be used for a wide variety of subjects, and it is particularly useful for remembering lists of information.
Directions for using the chaining strategy are as follows.
- Identify the list of information to be remembered.
- Arrange the list of items in order, if they need to be remembered as such.
- Look at the first pair of items. Develop a vivid mental picture that links the two items. Refer to the Visual Association strategy information for suggestions on making effective mental pictures.
- Look at the next pair of items, numbers two and three in the list. Develop a vivid mental picture that links the two items.
- Repeat the process until all items in the list have been chained.
The following illustration of the chaining strategy is used to remember the parts of the ear that transmit sound waves to the brain (ear drum, hammer, anvil, stirrup, oval window, cochlea, and auditory nerve). Using mental images, these items are linked together in the following way (REFERENCE):
- Imagine a drum being hit with an enormous hammer.
- Imagine a hammer lying under an anvil.
- Imagine the anvil riding a horse with its "foot" in the stirrup.
- Imagine the stirrup swinging and breaking an oval window.
- The word conclea is not easy to visualize, so the student could either imagine the letter "c" through an oval window, or he/she could imagine a snail crawling on an oval window since the conclea resembles a snail.
- Imagine a snail riding a lightning bolt that is several letter "n's" hooked together. The "n" stands for nerve and the electro-chemical nerve impulse.
The comparison strategy (REFERENCE) involves finding points of similarity, whether figurative or literal, between two things that must be associated and remembered. The strategy is particularly effective for remembering specific details or important functions or concepts. It can be applied to almost all subjects.
If it is possible to find some union of relationship between two things, it makes them easier to remember. The comparison strategy is often used unconsciously as a memory device; consider ways this strategy may be used more intentionally.
General directions for using the comparison strategy are given below. Be creative and think of other ways to compare items to be remembered.
- Identify the items to be remembered.
- Look for similarities among the items. Some ideas are:
- Similar sounds in the items
- Similar letters in the items
- The number of letters in the items
- The number of syllables in the items
- Alphabetical ordering of the items
- Previous experiences or prior knowledge
Several examples of the comparison strategy are given below.
- To remember that "port" means left, one can associate the fact that both words have four letters and end with "t." To remember that the light in the port side of a boat is red, it could be remembered that port is the name of a red wine.
- To remember that arteries carry blood away from the heart and veins carry blood to the heart, associate the first letter of each of the words. Arteries move blood away ("a" and "a") while veins move blood toward ("v" and "t" are close in the alphabet).
- To remember that odd-numbered highways run north-south and even-numbered highways run east-west, associate the "o's" in odd, north and south, and the "e's" in even, east, and west.
Concept Cards (Flash or Index Cards)
The concept cards strategy addresses the skill of concept or term recognition. With this memorization strategy, one piece of information is written on the front of a card and an associated piece of information is written on the back. One side of the card is then used as a cue to remembering information on the other side. Concept cards are also referred to as flash cards or index cards.
Concept cards are a versatile strategy that may be used for any subject of study. It is a good strategy for remembering paired information such as words and definitions, events and dates, people and accomplishments, and English words and foreign language translations. It can even be combined with other memory strategies such as visual elaboration, visual association, or peg words.
The method is similar to the running concept lists strategy, except that all terms are listed on separate cards rather than on one piece of paper. Compared to the running concept list method, concept cards are more easily manipulated but they take up more room.
Concept cards are written using the following steps.
- Write the term or concept on one side of a 3 x 5 index card. Students could also use a symbol on the front of the card to aid in association and to trigger memory.
- Write the definition or description of the term or concept on the other side of the card.
- Factual information put on the backs of index cards should be brief and direct.
- Lengthy definitions and explanations make the association of new information with old information difficult.
- Add an example of an application of the term along with the description on the back of the card.
- Practice determining the definition or description by rehearsing.
Two examples of concept cards are given below.
| Any abstract representation or explanation of a phenomenon.
(ex) Theory of Relativity (ex) Evolutionary Theory
Bails, Fines, Punishments
The peg words strategy (REFERENCE) addresses the skill of list memorization. It is used when memorizing lists of information that must remain in a certain numerical order (e.g. item #1 in the list must go first, then item #2, etc.).
The peg words strategy makes use of key words and visual associations in order to remember items in a list. Peg words are the words used to remember the number of an item in the list. They are words that are easily remembered and visualized. The peg words are associated with the key words for each item in the list. This is an association strategy because the peg words are something already known and they are linked to the key words in the list that are to be remembered.
The peg words strategy is similar to the Marvelous Memory Car strategy described elsewhere in this page.
Directions for the peg words strategy are given below.
- Think of a peg word to associate with each number of the list. There are several ways to develop peg words.
- One way is to use familiar words that rhyme with the numbers and that bring to mind vivid images:
- 1 = sun
- 2 = shoe
- 3 = tree
- 4 = door
- 5 = hive
- 6 = sticks
- 7 = heaven
- 8 = gate
- 9 = vine
- 10 = pen
- Another way is to use words whose images resemble the number:
- 1 = magic wand
- 2 = swan
- 3 = 3-leaf clover
- 4 = 4-leg table
- 5 = 5-pointed star
- 6 = elephant trunk
- 7 = flag on a pole
- 8 = hour glass
- 9 = smoking pipe
- 10 = bat and ball
- 11 = spaghetti strands
- 12 = digital clock at noon
- Select a key word or idea from each item in the list.
- Associate a picture with the key word or idea (see the Visual Association strategy section of this page for ideas).
- Link the peg word and picture with the corresponding item on the list.
- The process of recall will be spurred by repeating the rhyming peg words, the image, and the item to be remembered.
Two applications of the peg words strategy are provided below.
- To memorize the ten commandments in order
- ONE = SUN
- You shall have no other GODS before me. - Imagine the sun beating down on a Buddha (another god).
- TWO = SHOE
- You shall not make for yourselves GRAVEN IMAGES. - Imagine a shoe on a grave.
- Repeat for the remaining commandments.
- Rehearse the memory aid by repeating one-sun-god, two-shoe-grave, etc.
- To memorize the principal food exports of Latin America
- ONE = SUN COFFEE
- - Imagine the sun drinking a cup of steaming hot coffee.
- TWO = SHOE SUGAR
- - Imagine a shoe used as a sugar bowl.
- THREE = TREE CACAO
- - Imagine a tree that grows cacao beans. - Or, imagine a tree that grows chocolate bars, since chocolate is made from cacao beans.
- Rehearse the memory aid by repeating one-sun-coffee, two-shoe-sugar, three-tree-cacao, etc.
Rhymes, Songs, and Poems
The rhythm of a song or poem can be an aid to remembering certain information. The rhyming strategy (REFERENCE) helps students remember lists, rules, simple facts, concepts and other forms of information for nearly any subject.
Rhyme is another form of association. Information may be linked to song or poem rhythms that the student already knows, or information may be repeated in a rhythmic manner of the student's making. Most students are familiar with this strategy, as many learned their A, B, C's by using sing-song rhythms and rhyme as memory cues. This strategy is particularly useful when combined with visual associations.
To remember information using rhymes, songs and poems, follow these steps.
- Identify the new information to be remembered.
- Try to link the new information with a song or tune already known. Familiar tunes like "Old MacDonald" or "Bingo" are often effective.
- If no song works, try to work the information into a simple poem.
- If a poem cannot be formed, repeat the information in a rhythmic manner to aid remembering.
Well-known examples of rhymes, songs and poems used to remember information include the following:
- To remember the date when Columbus reached the New World
- "Columbus sailed the ocean blue / In fourteen hundred and ninety-two"
- To remember the number of days in each month
- "Thirty days have September, April, June and November / When short February comes, all the rest have 31 / Except February which has 28, 'til leap year makes it 29."
- To remember how to spell words with "ie" and "ei"
- "I before E / Except after C / As when sounded like A / As in neighbor and way"
Remembering names is easier when the names are associated with other words or, better yet, actions. One of the purposes is to increase one's awareness or consciousness when hearing or seeing new names. If the memory task is made more intentional, memory performance tends to improve. Improved memory for names is important for socialization and for reducing the stress of meeting new people. Name association strategies may be used on an individual basis or in group contexts.
Name Association Strategies for Individual Use
- Whenever you hear or see a new name, repeat the name aloud as you greet the person.
- For example, you might say, "John Doe. It's nice to meet you John Doe." Then repeat the name a few times in your mind.
- Visual Imagery
- Whenever you hear or see a new name, mentally picture something that reminds you of the name.
- For example, if you meet someone named Brooke Butler, picture a well-dressed employee jumping over a small stream.
- If you meet someone named Bob Shepard, picture a sheep-tender with a short bob haircut.
Name Association Strategies for Group Use
- Group Round
- Form a circle with the group members.
- Each person introduces him/herself in turn by saying his/her first name with a one-word descriptive word that begins with the first letter of the name (i.e. "Jolly John" or "Nice Nancy").
- After introducing him/herself, each person repeats all of the names and descriptors of the people who were named before him/her.
- This strategy is a good ice-breaker for the initial meetings of a group. The descriptor words help to add humor to the task, and the activity makes name remembering a more active process.
- Yarn Game
- Form a circle with the group members.
- The facilitator of the group starts the game with a ball of yarn, tossing the ball to another group member and saying his/her own name.
- Continue until all group members have said their names a few times.
- Play the game again, but have the group members say the name of the person to whom they throw the ball.
Marvelous Memory Car
The marvelous memory car (Ellis, 1994, p. 89?) is used to remember lists of up to twelve items for nearly any subject. It can be combined with visual associations to enhance its effectiveness. The strategy is similar to the peg words strategy, except that parts of a car are used as cues for the numbers in the list instead of rhymes or symbols.
Ellis' (1994) directions for using the marvelous memory car strategy are as follows.
List the cue words from the marvelous memory car. Make up new parts for very long lists.
- 1 = grill (there is only one grill)
- 2 = headlamps (there are two headlamps)
- 3 = hood ornament (it has three segments)
- 4 = doors (this is a four-door sedan)
- 5 = wheels (there are five wheels)
- 6 = windows (there are six windows)
- 7 = antenna (will pick up seven stations)
- 8 = engine (it is a big V-8)
- 9 = steering wheel (has nine spokes)
- 10 = instrument panel (has ten controls)
- 11 = glove box (has 11 stripes)
- 12 = driver (can remember twelve things)
- Select a key word or idea from each item in the list if they are multi-word items.
- Associate each list item with the corresponding car-part cue word. If the list order does not matter and the items can be rearranged, do so to more effectively match-up list items and car part cue words.
- Record the association for each list item in words and/or pictures.
- The process of recall will be spurred by repeating the car part cue words and the corresponding list items and by reviewing the written or pictoral associations.
The following example from Ellis (1994) illustrates how the marvelous memory car strategy is used to remember information. For an education class, students must memorize a list of twelve memory techniques. Because many of the items in this list are lengthy, key words are selected to be used with the marvelous memory car strategy. The key words are italicized.
- Move from general to specific ideas.
- Make the information meaningful.
- Create associations between new and old information.
- Learn actively and learn it once.
- Visualize relationships among ideas.
- Recite and repeat new information.
- Reduce interference when learning.
- Overlearn the new information.
- Be aware of attitudes.
- Distribute learning among tasks.
- Remember something else.
- Combine techniques for remembering.
Now the key words in the list items are matched with the marvelous memory car cue parts. In this example, no list items had to be reordered.
- Grill - General
- The grill of the car is so fancy it must belong to a five-star general.
- Headlamps - Meaningful
- Visualize an "M" on each headlamp.
- Hood Ornament - Associations
- Hood ornaments are associated with fancy cars.
- Doors - Active
- Car doors are where the action is, getting in and out of the car.
- Wheels - Relationships
- The wheels are identical, so they must be related.
- Windows - Repeat
- Visualize rolling the windows up and down, repeating it over and over.
- Antenna - Interference
- The car's antenna helps reduce interference or static.
- Engine - Overlearn
- The engine is so big it has over the power you need.
- Steering wheel - Attitudes
- Your behavior is steered by your attitudes.
- Instrument panel - Distribute
- If you don't distribute your attention across the instrument panel, you may speed, run out of gas, or overheat the engine.
- Glove Box - Something Else
- There is something other than gloves in the glove box.
- Driver - Combine
- To be a good driver, you must combine several skills.
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 MEMORY 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 MEMORY 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 MEMORY 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 MEMORY AID: Picture yourself paying a bill before it is due - or picture a huge dollar bill