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Teachers: PSHE: Ability

Last Updated: Thursday May 05 2005 12:41 GMT

Memory techniques

PSHE 11-14/KS3/Levels E&F
Study and careers


Brain scan: Picture Corbis
Children who can chant their times tables are better at doing sums, according to research.

Students practise several memory techniques that might help them remember what they study.

Learning aims

Learn some of the following techniques:

  • acrostics
  • acronyms
  • number pictures
  • spelling memory tips
  • name pictures
  • grouping
  • journey pegs
Teaching ideas


Ask students:

  • Have you ever used chanting as a way of remembering something? Does it work? What other memory techniques do you use?

    Main activity

    Chants and other memory techniques are called mnemonics. They are methods for remembering information that is otherwise quite difficult to recall.

    Pick three of these memory techniques for students to try.

    [A] Rhyme

    Ask students:

    • How many days are there in December, June, February?
    • How did you remember this information?
    Many students will have used the rhyme:

    30 days have September, April, June and November.
    All the rest have 31, except for February alone.
    When leap year comes once in four, February then has one day more.

    Rhymes and songs like this one stick in your memory.

    Here is another example:

    In fourteen hundred and ninety-two,
    Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

    Ask students to create a rhyme which helps them remember the date of the Great Fire of London in 1666.

    [B] Acrostic

    One way to remember a list of words in order is to make up an acrostic using the first letter of each word in the list.

    E.g. The colours of the rainbow in order, from the outside to inside are:
    Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet.

    They can be remembered using this acrostic:
    Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain.

    Ask students to make up an acrostic to remember the order of the planets in the solar system, from the planet closest to the sun outwards.

    The planets are: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto.

    [C] Acronyms

    Acronyms are similar to acrostics but they are words (as opposed to sentences) created by the first letters of a series of words.

    Many organisations use acronyms such as Action on Smoking and Health or ASH.

    Ask students to write down a list of five things they need to remember to bring to school and to make an acronym of them.

    E.g. games Kit, reading Book, packed Lunch, school Trip money, Calculator

    gives you...

    BLoCK iT!

    A top tip is to use vowels (aeiou) in the acronym but only let the consonants stand for the words to be remembered.

    [D] Numbers and rhyme

    A way of remembering numbers is by picturing objects that rhyme with each digit from 1 to 10.

    E.g. 1 rhymes with bun
    8 rhymes with gate
    6 rhymes with sticks

    So to remember that the speed of light is 186,000 miles per second, you imagine a bun (1) going through a gate (8) made of sticks (6) whilst being struck by a two bolts of lightening.

    This strange visual image will help you remember the numbers one, eight, and six in order and associate that figure with 'light' (lightning) and 'per second' (two bolts; first and second).

    Ask students to write down a list of objects which rhyme with numbers zero to ten.

    Using their rhyming list, students create a visual image to remember the speed of sound which is 340 miles a second.

    [E] Spelling techniques Breaking words down into parts can help you remember how to spell them, e.g:

    • A friend is always there when the end comes.
    • I before e except after c. This helps you remember how to spell words like retrieve and receive.
      But remember weird is spelt weird!
    • Separate is a rat of a word to spell.
    • You wear one collar and two socks. This is a reminder of how many cs and ss in necessary.
    Students chose a word they find difficult to spell and break it down into component parts.

    They devise a spelling memory tip to help them remember the correct spelling.

    [F] Grouping

    Show students this list of sports:

    Skiing, basketball, netball, tennis, long jump, 100m sprint, hockey, rounders, ice-skating, discus, golf, high jump, volleyball , javelin, football, rugby, lacrosse, cricket, gymnastics, hurdles.

    Give them a minute to try and remember as many of them as possible.

    Cover the list and ask them to write down all the sports they can remember.

    Who remembered the most? Did they use any mnemonics?

    Now ask students to group the sports into categories, e.g. athletics, sports played on a pitch, racquet sports.

    They write down the sports under each heading and count how many sports there are in each group.

    Students cover their lists and write down all the sports they can remember.

    Ask students:

    • How many sports did you remember this time?
    • Why do you think it's easier to remember information which has been ordered?
    [G] Names and pictures

    Ask each student to create a new first name for themselves.

    In pairs, students brainstorm words they associate with their partner's new name.
    E.g. Nina could be associated with 'ambulance' (siren sound ni-na), 'knee' (Ni-na) and 'Hyena' (rhymes with Nina).

    Picture your classmate alongside one of these objects e.g. with a flashing siren on her head.

    This strange visual image will make it easier to remember their new name.

    Students team up with another pair and try to remember their new names in the same way.

    Some students could test their memory power by trying to remember the new names of all their classmates.

    [H] Journey and peg

    Another way to remember a chain of information is to peg each bit on a landmark from a familiar journey.

    Ask students to think of a journey they do quite regularly. This could be the route to school or the journey from their bedroom to the front door.

    Ask students to write down all the landmarks they pass in order, putting each on a new line.

    ask them to select some information from one of the subjects they need to learn. If they can't think of anything, they can use this summary of the gunpowder plot:

    • During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, the government severely penalised Catholics.
    • When King James came to the throne, he followed suit.
    • In 1604, a group of English Catholics began planning to blow up the House of Lords and kill King James.
    • Guido Fawkes planned to light the fuse leading to the gunpowder before fleeing to Spain.
    • On November the 4th 1605, the storeroom below the House of Lords was searched and large quantities of gunpowder were found.
    • In January 1606, Fawkes and the other surviving plotters were executed as traitors.
    Students write down each bit of information next to a landmark.

    They imagine themselves making the journey, passing the bit of information pegged to each landmark. This will help them recall the details more easily.

    Extension activity

    Another good way of retaining information is to teach someone else what you have learned.

    This method can help you remember 90 per cent of the information.

    Ask students:

    • How would you teach the gunpowder plot summary to someone?
    • Would you use diagrams, flow charts?
    In pairs, one student teaches their partner about the gunpowder plot and they in turn tell them what they have remembered.


    Students share their rhymes, acrostics, acronyms, number pictures, spelling memory tips, name pictures and journey pegs with the class.

    Ask students: Which techniques did you find most useful and why?

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