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Mnemonics - Learning and Memory Tools

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Mnemonics - Learning and Memory Tools

Most people know what mnemonics are; in case you've never taken lessons on a musical instrument, here is one very famous mnemonic: Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge.

What does it mean? It's simply an easy method for children to remember the names of the lines in a treble clef staff. The lines are E, G, B, D, and F. Those letters are the first letters in each of the words of the mnemonic.

If a child remembers the mnemonic, then the child can figure out the letters. And, in fact, remembering the mnemonic is - for most children - easier than simply remembering the letters.

Of course, the eventual goal is that children will not need the mnemonic. After all, no musician has time to think "Let's see... Every Good Boy...ah! It's a B!"

Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally is a way of remembering order of operations: Parenthesis first, followed by Exponents, then Multiplication and Division, then Addition and Subtraction.

Another example of a mnemonic is My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas. which is a way of remembering the nine planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto)...except...Oh My! Pluto is no longer classified as a planet!

So what to do? Well, some contests were held to invent a NEW mnemonic that didn't include Pluto. Various entries were suggested. I didn't find any of them particularly memorable.

The winner involved a magic carpet and elephants, which might be memorable if you're a big fan of Aladdin, but otherwise, not so much!

So I asked my science students to come up with their own mnemonic. I told them: use words that have some connection to you personally. You won't remember the mnemonic if it is a bunch of words that have no connection to your life.

My example to them was based on the fact that I am a ventriloquist, and my favorite puppet is a dodo bird named Jeorge: Many Ventriloquists Envy My Jeorge. Such Utter Nonsense!

The point is, while that's a great mnemonic for me, it won't be very helpful for anyone else. So personalize your mnemonics: the only real rule is that they have to work for you. No one else needs to use them.

There are plenty of other ways to remember necessary information. I remember once in high school, three of my classmates in biology class were discussing the "most unlikely term" that we might be asked to remember for a test. We agreed that "operculum" was that term. The operculum is the covering over the gill slits on a fish.

So what did we do? Since there were four of us, and four syllables in "operculum", we sat around a table and kept repeating the word, one syllable at a time, for five minutes straight.

Did it work? Well, look at it this way: it's 25 years later, and I still remember what an operculum is!

There are two reasons why this worked for me. First, the obvious repetition - repeating something over and over is a great way to remember it. But there was another reason it stuck with me: because it was silly.

Sometimes a little bit of silliness goes a long way in helping people remember things.
Lesson by Mr. Twitchell

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