What Did You Forget? Memory Tricks To Help Private Teachers And Your Students Learn

Apr 3, 2017

by Beth Peterson.

I once read ginkgo would help improve your memory, so I went out and bought an extra large bottle of this supplement.

Honestly, I would do just about anything to help my memory. Funny thing, I couldn’t remember where I placed the bottle for about two weeks, then once I started it was hard to remember to take the darn thing every day. I tried, but couldn’t tell a speck of difference.

That’s when I decided to study up on what the memory experts say. So far, the research says there’s no magic pill. I just have to create systems for remembering and know how to pull the information I need from my cerebral filing cabinet.

I cannot write about memory strategies without mentioning the Godfather of memory techniques, Harry Lorayne. He is in his early nineties now and is a prolific writer and presenter teaching millions interested in improving their memory.

Although his childhood story is somewhat dark, it provides motivation and hope for those of us who feel doomed when we think we can never improve our memories.

He was the poorest of the poor, and school wasn’t so fun for him due to failing grades, as well as serious difficulty reading. He actually had dyslexia, but we didn’t have a name for it then. He says that when he brought home poor test grades, his dad would punch him. Ouch! I’m sure it hurt bad enough getting a failing grade. So, to avoid his father’s punishment, he worked hard at figuring out the secret to succeed in school.

No teacher really wants to hear this, but many students would agree with Harry regarding his view on school. He realized that school measured your intelligence by how well you could memorize answers to questions. It wasn’t necessarily a measure of intelligence, but of how well you memorized things.

He also said there is no learning without memory.

After that epiphany, he studied how-to books on the art of remembering and began passing all of his tests. Then he started teaching others, wrote books and presented his techniques to thousands.

The key to his method lies in the fact that you have to associate images with information AND pay attention. During an interview on one of his many Johnny Carson show appearances, he said you have to focus and listen. Most people don’t really listen.


Have you ever met someone, had a nice conversation, moved on and then realized you don’t recall their name? Maybe you weren’t really focusing when they said their name. Or, was it because you really didn’t listen? This happens to me all the time but I think I’m a pretty good listener. So this gave me pause for thought.

Aristotle said: “It is impossible even to think without a mental picture.” If you don’t have a strong visual learning style, don’t worry. You just need to anchor the information you need to learn with an image. Especially with an image that is absurd, crazy and hopefully has some action. There are a lot of mental imagery tricks to help us remember names. I’m still working on that. For now, I will share my top mnemonic devices that will help any student with their studies. Just remember, these won’t work if you don’t pay attention and listen.

Acronyms and acrostics are useful mnemonics that most of us have used since we were in the first grade. We just didn’t know that they had such a fancy name.

Remember HOMES, ROY G. BIV? Those are acronyms; creating a word that contains the first letter of the words you need to know. HOMES is the Great Lakes — Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Superior. The name ROY G. BIV stands for the colors of the rainbow: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet.

Acrostics use the first letter of each word you need to know and make up a silly sentence. PEMDAS, EGBDF are acrostics for: Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally (order of operations) and Every Good Boy Does Fine (notes on the treble clef staff).

Both acronyms and acrostics are useful for most subject areas. Recently, I worked with some students on creating acrostics for the countries in Central America. They took the first letter of each country and made a silly sentence out of it. Barney cracked eggs near hot pans and gum. Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Panama and Guatemala. Who can forget that?

Making up your own acronyms and acrostics can be hard in the beginning, but it’s really easy once you get in that mindset. I’m constantly coming up with mnemonics for most everything I need to learn. It’s just natural for me now. Practice, practice, practice! And, yes, it does annoy my friends…

Ever wonder how people memorize longs lists in order? I teach my study skills students word association tricks. It’s a little tricky to summarize, but the main point is that the prior word needs to be associated to the next word. In other words, you only have to remember the first word without a link.

The example from The Memory Book by Lorayne and Lucas is this: 1. airplane 2. tree 3. envelope 4. earring 5. bucket and so on (I can still write the list of 10 in order from memory and I learned this list three years ago, so I know this works).

You need to have an image — and if it’s moving that’s even better. Also, that association with the prior item needs to be rather absurd or unrealistic. For example, millions of trees are flying over the airplane, there’s envelopes hanging from the tree branches, you are wearing earrings that are in the shape of envelopes, you might see a gigantic bucket wearing earrings, etc. Get it? The more you exaggerate, make things out of proportion, have them moving and substitute items for one another, the more successful you will be at remembering them.

All of these techniques require chunking. Your brain loves to categorize things because it’s pretty hard to remember a zillion single items. If you have to remember 50 items for a test, chunk it. Make a silly story so it flows, make acronyms, acrostics and use word associations. You can memorize four to five chunks containing everything rather than memorizing 50 single items. Our brain can handle that much better. Try it!

You’re never too old or too young to learn anything. Research has shown us over the last decade that neuro-plasticity is evident in old and young brains. That’s the ability for your brain to expand it’s neural network so it can grow and change. So, although I might still be tempted to reach for the latest supplement to help boost my brain power, I really will have better luck using these proven memory tricks. It’s cheaper too.

Beth is a former classroom teacher and mom of three boys. She is an academic coach and consultant in the Pacific Northwest. Peterson Academic Coaching serves students from grade 4 to college helping them plan, organize and prioritize to achieve school success, maximize their strengths and boost self-confidence. Check out some resources at: www.petersonacademiccoaching.com

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