Mnemonic Devices for Students

Memory tools and strategies improve information retention

Students asking questions of teacher leading astronomy lesson
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Mnemonic devices can help students remember important facts and principles. Mnemonic devices commonly employ a rhyme, such as "30 days hath September, April, June, and November," so that they are recalled easily. Some use an acrostic phrase where the first letter of each word stands for another word, such as "Practically every old man plays poker regularly," to remember the geologic ages of Paleocene, Eocene, Oligocene, Miocene, Pliocene, Pleistocene, and Recent. These two techniques effectively aid memory.

Mnemonics work by associating easy-to-remember clues with complex or unfamiliar data. Though mnemonics often seem illogical and arbitrary, their nonsensical wording is what can make them memorable. Teachers should introduce mnemonics to students when the task requires the memorization of information rather than to have a student understand a concept.

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Acronym (Name) Mnemonic

Human brain with rainbow colors

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An acronym mnemonic forms a word from the first letters or groups of letters in a name, list, or phrase. Each letter in the acronym acts as a cue. For example, ROY G. BIV helps students remember the order of the colors of the spectrum: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet

Other examples of acronym mnemonics include:

  • HOMES, which provides an easy way to remember the five Great Lakes: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior
  • OIL RIG, which helps chemistry students remember the difference between these two terms: Oxidation It Loses (electrons) Reduction It Gains (electrons)
  • FANBOYS, which helps learners remember the seven coordinating conjunctions: For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So
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Expressions or Acrostic Mnemonics

Acrostic Mnemonic
Acrostic Mnemonic: An invented sentence where the first letter of each word is a cue to an idea you need to remember.

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In an acrostic mnemonic, the first letter of each word in a sentence provides the clue that helps students recall information. For example, music students remember the notes on the lines of the treble clef (E, G, B, D, F) with the sentence, "Every Good Boy Does Fine."

Biology students use King Philip Cuts Open Five Green Snakes to remember the order of taxonomy: Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species.

Budding astronomers might proclaim, "My Very Earnest Mother Just Served Us Nine Pickles," when reciting the order of the planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto.

Placing Roman numerals gets easier if you use the acrostic mnemonic, I Value Xylophones Like Cows Dig Milk, as follows:

  • I =1
  • V =5
  • X =10
  • L= 50
  • C=100
  • D=500
  • M=1000
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Rhyme Mnemonics

Rhyme Mnemonic
Rhyme Mnemonic: rhymes are one of the simplest ways to boost memory. The end of each line ends in a similar sound, creating a singsong pattern that is easier to remember.

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A rhyme matches similar terminal sounds at the end of each line. Rhyme mnemonics are easier to remember because they can be stored by acoustic encoding in the brains.

An example might be the number of days in a month:

Thirty days hath September,
April, June, and November;
All the rest have thirty-one
Excepting February alone:
Which hath but twenty-eight, in fine,
Till leap year gives it twenty-nine.

Another example is the spelling rule mnemonic:

"I" before "e" except after "c"
or when sounding like "a"
in "neighbor" and "weigh"
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Connection Mnemonics

Connection Mnemonic
Connection Mnemonics: This allows you to remember sequences of unrelated items in the appropriate order. GETTY Images

In connection mnemonics, students connect the information they want to memorize to something they already know.

For example, the lines on a globe that run north and south are long, corresponding to LONGitude and making it easier to remember the directions of longitude and latitude. Similarly, there is an N in LONGitude and an N in North. Latitude lines must run east to west because there is no N in latitude.

Civics students can connect the order of the ABCs with the 27 Constitutional Amendments. This Quizlet shows the 27 Amendments with Mnemonic Aids; here are the first four:

  • "1st Amendment; A = All RAPPS—Freedom of religion, assembly, petition, press, and speech
  • 2nd Amendment; B = Bear Arms—The right to bear arms
  • 3rd Amendment; C = Can't intrude—Quartering of Troops
  • 4th Amendment; D = Don't Search—Search and Seizure, Search Warrants"
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Mnemonics Generators

Crowdsourced mnemonics
Mnemonic Dictionary: Crowdsourced mnemonics.

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Students may want to create their own mnemonics. Successful mnemonics should have a personal meaning or importance to the learner. Students can start with these online mnemonic generators: 

Students can create their own mnemonics without a digital tool, following a few basic tips:

  • Create mnemonics with pleasant images; vivid, colorful, images are easier to remember than drab ones. Mnemonics can contain sounds, smells, tastes, touch, movements, and feelings as well as pictures.
  • Exaggerate the size of important parts of the topic or item that needs to be memorized.
  • Create mnemonics that use humor; funny mnemonics are easier to remember than normal ones. (Rude rhymes are also difficult to forget.)
  • Use everyday symbols, such as red traffic lights, road signs, or pointing. These can be great visuals to use in creating mnemonics.
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Your Citation
Kelly, Melissa. "Mnemonic Devices for Students." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Kelly, Melissa. (2023, April 5). Mnemonic Devices for Students. Retrieved from Kelly, Melissa. "Mnemonic Devices for Students." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 9, 2023).