How Mnemonics Work

Francis Mensah-Okyere, Cledor Education (c) 2021

Welcome to the course!

What to expect

  • Course material and quiz on how mnemonics work
  • Course materials and quizzes on the types of mnemonics
  • Discussions on mnemonic
  • applications in teaching and learning
  • Final course assessment and certification

NB: The course facilitator will be making
contributions to discussions in the
private course forum. You are all
encouraged to make contributions in
the forum and help clarify issues for
colleagues whenever you can.

Course Objectives

Expectations and outcomes

  • Understand the basis for mnemonics and discuss with colleagues how they may be actively incorporated into teaching and learning
  • Analyze some types and examples of mnemonics.
  • Actively integrate mnemonics into classroom teaching and students’ learning.


Before we delve into how
mnemonics work, let’s do a
quick activity.

Activity 1

Test Your Memory!

Test your memory!

Did you know that in just a few minutes, you could memorize the following numbers in the
same order that they come and recall them all correctly afterward? If you used the right
techniques, you would never forget them unless you wanted to. Try it out!
You may need a partner to help you with this. Let your partner be your timekeeper and
verifier who will make sure that you are recalling the numbers correctly and orderly. Don’t
worry if you are not able to do this after a few attempts. You will have the opportunity to try
again after your lessons on Memory and Recall Techniques. But make sure to record all
your trials in the table below.
Remember, you have only 30 minutes to memorize all the numbers you see below. It
shouldn’t take you more than one hundred and eighty (180) seconds to recall all of them,
so simply write “180” in the time column each time you fail to complete your attempt in
one hundred and eighty seconds. Grab a pencil and reset your timer. Done? GO!


2 3 3 3 4 3 2 5 2 2 0 4 1 3 2 4 3 2 2 3
6 0 3 4 2 2 2 6 4 4 2 2 2 3 2 3 4 4 8 4
4 8 4 2 0 2 4 2 4 3 3 3 5 3 3 4 2 4 3 4
3 4 2 4 3 4

Record your recall trials in your jotter:

After six attempts, add up the values you got for all your [n/t] and write your total score in the
last row under the [n/t] column. Do not include recalls of less than 22 items or less than 60
seconds in your tabulations.

(Time Taken
before your first
error-in seconds)
Number of
items recall
Divided[n] by [t]
(Always express in time in
to be continued…

How Mnemonics Work

A mnemonic (pronounced with a silent ‘m’) or mnemonic device is any technique that helps a learner to recall, remember or retain information. Mnemonic devices are based on the assumption that new information can be learned more easily by associating or relating it to information that is already known by the learner or generated by the learner himself/herself. It simply aims to translate information into a form that the human brain can retain better when compared to the original form of the information. I have used some mnemonics in the previous lessons to help you remember certain details. Do you remember the “PAR Drill”, “SEPTO” and “High Bicou’s Head Cap”? Those are all examples of mnemonics.
Mnemonics are generally created using associations. For instance, to remember a list of ingredients that you must buy at the market, you can simply associate/attach/link or peg each of the ingredients to something that you already know or have already stored in your long-term memory. For example, since many of us can hardly forget our mother or best friend even after a reasonably long absence, it means the images of such persons are already in our long-term memory – we know what the person’s face is like, what the neck is like, and we can vividly remember many other features that the person has. To memorize the new information which is the list of ingredients, all one has to do is to dramatically associate or link or peg each ingredient to each of the features that the person has, based on the order of the ingredients and the order of the parts and noticeable features of the person’s body.

Where you must remember a list of ingredients in the order: rice, tomato, and tilapia, you can, for instance, imagine a bag of rice on the person’s head; a laughing tomato hanging from the person’s left ear, and a live tilapia hanging and flipping on a chain around the neck. Of course, tomatoes don’t laugh but the more dramatic the association is, the easier it is to recall it later.
This way, anytime you want to remember the ingredients, you would only need to recall the dramatic image of the person that you created or the features which you already know. As you remember the features or parts, you would easily remember the ingredients that you associated with them as well. Go ahead, try your mind on this by creating a few lists of your own and associating them with features of things or persons that you already have in your long-term memory. Remember the principle from the previous course, “Use it or Lose it,” so do well to be practicing what you are learning.

The use of various forms of mnemonics exists for different purposes. Some help to memorize lists of items to be learned in a specific order, others help in recalling numerical or number sequences, and others for new language/word acquisition among others. Note that mnemonics can be used to retain information that must be learned in the same way it is presented. Examples of such information are dates of important events such as birth, and any orderly lists of items such as the PAR. Mnemonics can also be used to retain information or knowledge that does not need to be remembered in any particular order. We shall proceed to learn about the types of mnemonics in the next lesson. Before that, let’s check on how much you have learned so far. Please take the quiz.

Thank you

Please take the quiz that follows in the next section.