Mnemonics are fun and will help you remember

Along a mountain road stands and old tree. We see mountains in the distance.Which of these do you know?


– Every Good Boy Does Fine.


– My Very Excellent Mother Just Served Us Noodles.

– King Phillip Came Over For
Green Sneakers.

-In Poland Men Are Tall.

– King Henry Doesn’t Mind Drinking Cold Milk.

Mnemonics ( pronounced “Knee – mon – icks)  are learning strategies that help us remember. The word comes from a Greek word for memory. Some people define them as memory tricks or memory manipulations. They are most commonly used to remember lists. If you didn’t recognize all the initial letter mnemonics listed along the picture, these clues might help.

I needed to  change the mnemonic that reminds students of the planets (now that there are only eight of them.)
The phases in mitosis (cell division).
The Great Lakes.
Common metric prefixes from large to small.
Colors of the spectrum or rainbow from longer to the shorter wavelengths.
Musical notes on the lines of the treble clef
Biological levels of classification

Auditory Mnemonics use rhyme and music

Most of us learned a few verbal mnemonics when we were children. One example is the alphabet song. It uses rhyme and music to help preschoolers learn the alphabet. I was surprised to hear the same tune (Twinkle Twinkle Little Star) used for an alphabet songs in several other languages.

We were a little older when we learned the rhymes:

“Thirty days hath September, April, June and November.
All the rest have thirty-one  except February alone.
And that has twenty-eight days clear  With twenty-nine in each leap year.

I before E except after C
or when sounded as A as in neighbor or weigh.

There are other mnemonics that use rhyme to help us remember. I remember “In fourteen hundred and ninety-two , Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”  Many people still rely on this to remember the date.

The same sort of couplet is used for other important dates, rhyming the number with another word. “The Spanish Armada met its fate in fifteen hundred and eighty-eight.”

You could create your own little rhymes to help you remember dates. But, of course, you’d need to know the date pretty well already since the only clue is the last number. A better way to remember dates would be the Numeric numbers listed at the end of this page.

Verbal Mnemonics fall into two main categories

1. Acronyms are words created from the first letters of a list of words. Familiar acronyms include NATO, AIDS, DNA, CEO.Notice that some are pronounced as words and others use the initials. Other acronyms began that way but are now considered words: Scuba, Radar, Sonar, Laser. For example, Scuba means “Self contained underwater breathing apparatus.  And now we have a whole new collection of acronyms used most often in texting such as LOL, OMG, and BFF.

I only know a few acronyms used to help memory. Most common is HOMES, the names of the Great Lakes: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior.

Some high school students remember the different forms of energy by thinking of “McHales” … Mechanical, Chemical, Heat, Atomic Light, Electrical, and Solar.
— Super Memory – Super Student, p 14.

Lorayne also includes one that’s a little obscure. He says medical and dental students us this one. BITEM helps them remember the five muscles that are required for a human bite: Buccinator, Internal pterygoid, Temporal, External pterygoid, Masseter. p. 14

Another familiar one seems to fit even though it’s more than a single word.  Roy G. Biv provides the color of the spectrum or rainbow: Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet.

2. The other verbal form of mnemonics is called by various names but “First Letter Mnemonics” seems most logical. Instead of forming a single word, these letters become the first initials of words that are organized in phrases or sentences. These are the easiest to create.

Here we find most of those found above. To remember the planets in order from the sun, outwards, we often heard “My very excellent mother just served us nine pizzas.” You need to remember which planet to start with since M is listed twice: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune and Pluto. It didn’t work when Pluto was demoted. I decided to change it to My very excellent mother just served us noodles. Steven’s book lists it as “My very educated mother just served us noodles. It includes another great version for the original nine planets: My very energetic monkey jumped straight up Napoleon’s pants.  —Chris Stevens, p. 84  I would hate to change this one.

The first mnemonic I ever learned was “On Old Olympus Towering Top A Finn and German Viewed A Hop,” for the Cranial nerves. Olfactory, Optic, Oculomotor, Trochlear, Trigeminal, Abducens, Facial, Auditory, Vagus, Accessory, and Hypoglossal. It was in a footnote in my textbook for Comparative Anatomy.  Since it is mainly used by medical students, I’ve been surprised to see it in a number of books on memory. I was in a doctor’s office several years ago and discovered that the tenth nerve, the Accessory nerve is now called Spinal Accessory. I simply changed from  A Hop to Some Hops. I still remember these nerves not because I have great memory, but because I recite them every time I sit in a dentist’s chair.

Harry Lorayne added a new Mnemonic,  about the Great Lakes. ” Imagine hills on the lakes. Imagine a man standing on each hill (Notice, he has added a visual element.)  Remember : On Each Hill Man Stands.” Of course the men had to ascend the hills. This lists the Great Lakes in ascending order. (smallest to largest.) p. 14.

In Poland Men Are Tall stands for the stages of Mitosis (cell division): Interphase, Prophase,  Metaphase, Anaphase, and Telophase.

King Henry Doesn’t Mind Drinking Cold Milk represents the metric prefixes that students are normally expected to know, from large measures to small measures: Kilo-, Hecto-, Deca, Meter (or Liter or gram, etc), Deci-, Centi-, and Milli- . Sousa, p.132

Some of the so-called mnemonics, seem totally useless. Steven’s book, p. 65 includes “Never Eat Slimy Worms” and four others for the same purpose. Another common one is the word, NEWS. What are we supposed to remember? The four directions of the compass : North, East, South and West. If we didn’t already know these, we would never be able to remember them with these “mnemonics.”

One mnemonic I was delighted to find in Steven’s book covers the main geological periods from the Cambrian to the Quaternary. “Can Ordinary Students Date Carbon Perfectly, Then Join Courses? Tough Question! “ p. 75 . These remind geology students of Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian, Carboniferous, Permian, Triassic, Jurassic, Cretaceous, Tertiary, and Quaternary.  This list goes from the oldest to the most recent periods.

I would have loved having this mnemonic when I studied geology. We were required to know the geologic table in much greater detail so I created my own mnemonic. I worked in the other direction, from recent to ancient. I divided it into 3 parts. The more recent periods (Tertiary and Quaternary above, I already knew. These periods are subdivided and my  mnemonic is for the next level of detail. I used “Please My Old Eager Pal.” for Pleistocene, Miocene, Oligocene, Eocene, and Paleocene.” In the middle period, I knew the three ages of dinosaurs and simply noticed that they were in reverse alphabetical order: Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous. For the oldest period, I used “Pam Can (in the PM) Deal Silly Ordered Cards. You’ll that they follow the list above from Cambrian to Permian except that I’m working down the list instead of up. The phrase in parentheses, “in the PM, refers to the fact that Carboniferous is subdivided into Pennsylvanian and Mississippian. You will see how I have used clues with several letters from the original.

Our geology professor had us write the entire chart on every quiz and test. With my mnemonic, I was able to get it perfect every time.

New mnemonics in Steven’s book that I found helpful are:

“My Big Gray ELephant Has no CRitical Problems.” These are the countries in Central America from north to south: Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. p. 73.  Notice that in countries with two-part names, this Mnemonic uses two letters. I often write mnemonics that use several letters from the words to be remembered when possible.

“The planets in order of size, from largest to smallest are: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Earth, Venus, Mars, Mercury and Pluto. Remember them with this silly sentence: Jack Stood Under Ninety-Eight Vicious Martian-Munching Penguins.” p. 85  The problem, of course, is that Pluto is no longer a planet and the “penguins” made the sentence interesting. Let’s try “Jack Stood Under Ninety-Eight Vicious Martian Monkeys.”

I learned the mnemonic “King Phillip Came over for Green Sneakers” for the Classification of animals (Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species.) from a fourth grade girl who had learned it in school. I’d never heard it but have never forgotten.  Stevens version is “Kind People Can Occasionally Feel Grumpy Suddenly” .p. 88.

I’ve always wanted an easy way to remember Roman Numerals but it never seemed important enough to work on a Mnemonic. Stevens has one. “I Value X-rays.  Lucy Can’t Drink Milk.” p. 91. Now, all we need to know is what number they represent. We commonly know I is one, V is five and X is ten.  The ones I needed to learn include L is fifty, C is 100. D is 500, and M is 1000.

Numeric Mnemonics

Harry Larayne has some very complex mnemonic systems for learning long numbers. I have no intention of taking the time to learn how to use it. I’d rather remember my social security number the old-fashioned way. But there is another system that I like. This was developed by people who enjoy remembering a long list of numbers like the first 50 digits of pi.  It is very simple. You are a funny elephant  represents the number 33158. The first word has three letters for the number three. The second word also has three letters, another 3. the next word has 1 letter. It is 1. Finally we have five letters: 5.

So if you need to remember your ID number or Social Security number, try this. It should also big a great help if you need to remember a lot of dates. Columbus: A Good  Discovery Is.  1 letter, 4 letters, 9 letters 2 letters. This gives you the date he discovered America.  You can probably create one that’s even better.

A final note: If you already know the information, you certainly don’t need a mnemonic. If you can learn the information just as easily without a mnemonic, you don’t need a mnemonic.  But if you need to learn a very complex list of items, it really isn’t hard to create a simple mnemonic.

1. Simply list the words you need to learn in order.
2. Make a list of possible words that come easily to mind next to each word you need to learn.Try finding words that have several letters in common with the word you are learning.
3. Arrange some of these words into a sentence that will be easy to remember. Try several possibilities until you find a sentence you like.

Now you have your very own mnemonic. It’s fun, isn’t it?

For Mnemonics 2: Methods of the experts

For Links to other areas of Memory

Practical Memory                          Rote Memory 

Visual Memory                              Auditory Memory                             Kinesthetic Memory

Relational Memory                      Emotional Memory                       Storytelling in Memory

Multiple Pathways                       Scheduled Reviews             research: Processing Memory

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