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“I forgot.” “I can’t remember that.” “I sit down to take a test and my mind goes blank.” “I’m not a good test taker.”
This article is somewhat adapted from an article written by Linda Bress Silbert and Alvin J Silbert.
It was written from a student’s perspective. However, these strategies are just as helpful for adults, because we all need a little help remembering new things.
Have you ever noticed that some things are easy for you to remember while others are difficult? For example, you may be able to remember how to put an engine together, or why it rains, but you may have trouble remembering the lines to a school play or multiplication facts.
You’ll be relieved to know that there’s nothing wrong with you; this happens to everyone. The good news is that there are strategies that can help you remember what you need to remember.
The twelve strategies — some of which are called mnemonic (say “ni mon ik“) devices — introduced below will help you learn how to memorize important information.
They have been helping students at STRONG Learning Centers® for years, not only on homework and tests, but continuing to be valuable in their daily lives.
Break information up into small chunks. This is called “chunking.” You use chunking a lot, for example, when you memorize your friend’s telephone number, a locker combination, or your social security number. It’s easier to remember long numbers when you “chunk” them into groups of threes, fours and fives. Why? Because most people can only remember about three, four or five bits of information at a time.
Here are suggestions on how you can use “chunking” to remember information as well as numbers:
• Chunk vocabulary words: group them by parts of speech or other attributes
• Chunk history: by time periods or events
• Chunk foreign language: group words into categories like household items or occupations
• If there is no pattern to the information you need to study: group the items into three, four or five at a time.
Before memorizing something, try to understand it. A good way to do this: make a connection between what you are learning and what you have experienced. The better you can relate the new information to what you already know, the easier it is to learn.
For example, before attempting to memorize events of European history, find the places on a globe (or world map); see where they are relative to one another and relative to where you live.
3. Graphic Organizers
These tools help you really SEE things you are trying to learn. They help organize information. There are many different types of graphic organizers. You can even design them yourself.
• Venn Diagram for comparing and contrasting
• Web for the main topic and details
• Cause and Effect Design with the event in the middle box, the causes listed in the left boxes and the effects listed in the right boxes. (The effects and the causes are connected to the event by lines.)
• Cycle Organizer, which consists of shapes drawn in a cyclic pattern with words in each shape to represent things or events that go in cycles — the water cycle, for example.
To visualize means to see an image in your head without actually looking at it.
Visualization can help you learn almost anything. Here is an example.
If the topic is the water cycle, create a mental image of a cloud. Picture it growing. As you look, “feel” its heavy cold rain. See the rain hitting the ground, then flowing toward streams and rivers toward the ocean. Now “see” the hot sun hitting and evaporating the water and forming clouds….
Get the idea? If you can visualize parts of the water cycle, the boring diagram becomes meaningful and remember-able.
In general, if you have trouble visualizing material, try drawing maps, charts, graphs, or pictures.
Another learning strategy is to associate, or “connect,” each word or event with a person, place, thing, feeling, or situation.
You can connect what you are trying to learn with someone you know, or with a movie character or scene.
When you have to learn vocabulary words, just write the new words, write the definitions next to them, and then write a person, thing, event, movie, or any strong association to help you remember the meaning of each word. For example, “My altruistic Aunt Alice gives great gifts.” (Altruistic means “generous.”)
We learned the alphabet singing the ABC song. And the rhyme “I before E, except after C, or when it sounds like A as in neighbor or weigh.”
This is also a great strategy even when learning the times tables. For example, 7 and 7 went down the line to capture number 49; 8 and 4 made some stew and gave it to 32. (Rhymes don’t have to make sense!)
If you like to talk, here’s a strategy that’s easy and fun to use! Just talk about the information you have to learn.
Tell Grandpa, Mom, a friend, or your dog what you have to learn! Do you want to learn history? Then talk history – discuss, debate, argue.
Think of a person who may have lived during a major historical event and pretend to be that person. Now talk about the important events: who was involved, when it happened, where it took place, what happened, and why?
If you’re learning a language, then speak it at the dinner table. It doesn’t matter if others know what you are saying; you do, so you’ll learn.
Remember information in any subject just by telling a story. Write a story by focusing on the key points of what you’re learning and arranging them in a logical sequence.
It can even be a song or rhyme that tells the story. And there’s a bonus: each event in the story triggers your memory of the next event, so you’ll remember even more.
9. Writing Sentences
Do you remember learning the silly sentence “Every good boy does fine” from music class? We used this to remember the notes. You may also have used the sentence “My Very Excellent Mom Just Served Us Nine Pizzas” to remember the planets. (Oops! Change the sentence because Pluto is no longer considered a planet…)
This strategy can even help us learn those extra troublesome spelling words. Just make up a sentence using words that begin with the letters. So, to learn “aardvark,” you may make up a nonsense sentence like: Aardvarks Always Run Down Very Angry Rowdy Kids.
An “acronym” is a word made up from the first letters of a list of words. Here’s how it works. Take the list of words or facts that you want to remember; put them in an order so that the first letters of each word, or the first syllables, spell a real word or a made-up word.
How do you memorize the names of the five Great Lakes? Easy — remember “HOMES” ( H=Huron, O=Ontario, M=Michigan, E=Erie, and S=Superior).
While this strategy won’t help you understand the information, it at least helps you to memorize it. It’s easy and fun, and you’ll probably remember the information forever. The name of the company that wrote these strategies is an acronym. STRONG stands for: Self-esteem, Trust, Responsibility, Options, Needs, Goals.
If you want to remember information, you have to practice it. If you don’t it “fades.”
So, just as actors need to rehearse in order to remember their lines, students need to rehearse to remember what they are learning. Here are some helpful hints on “rehearsing” whatever information you need to learn for homework or tests:
• Rehearse for short periods (perhaps 30 to 60 minutes) and then take a short ten-minute break. Call a friend, have a snack, or shoot some hoops.
• Every time you rehearse: say it, write it, read it, draw it, sing it – do whatever it takes. Multisensory methods strengthen memory!
• Just before going to sleep: review everything you will need to know for the next day or for the upcoming test. You’ll remember much more if you rehearse the night before.
• Review in the morning: while brushing your teeth, eating breakfast or sitting on the bus.
12. Playing Games
Playing games is a great way to memorize information. As you play the game you are learning the material and practicing it over and over again.
Games can help you remember facts, formulas, definitions, events or any other information you’re trying to learn. Here is an example:
Play “Memory,” using decks of card you make from ordinary index cards you cut in half.
Create pairs by writing the same number on each of two cards, 1 and 1, 2 and 2, etc. Write the numbers tiny so they will not interfere with play. On each pair, write a question on one card and the answer on the other card.
For examply, “2×7=” is on one card, and “14” is on its pair. Or “Where did the Pilgrims land?” is on one card, and “Plymouth, Massachusetts” is on its mate. Then shuffle all the cards and play memory with yourself or with a friend.
If you’re alone, see how fast you can match up all pairs. You’ll be able to check yourself by making sure the small numbers are the same. Have fun!
For the Tough Ones: if it’s really hard to remember, make a string “clothes line” between two places on a wall. Hang the pairs next to each other with spring type clothes pins.
For example, if circle formulas get you down: every time you walk into your room you’ll see “C=” and “2*pi*r” and “A=” and “pi*r*squared” NEXT TO each other. Pretty soon you’ll remember the info.
Another example is the many commercially available games to make learning to read easier and fun. A good example is: by using any of the twenty STRONG Learning Phonics games, children in grades 1-4 can learn important phonics rules while playing popular card games such as Go Fish, War, Memory or Old Maid.
The people at Strong Learning hope some of these techniques and strategies may make it easier for you to remember important things. And possibly make school days and homework nights a whole lot better.
tutoring in Columbus OH: Adrienne Edwards 614-579-6021 or email firstname.lastname@example.org