Remember Academic Content with Ease: RACE Ahead with Mnemonics!

By Lee Anne Sulzberger, M.Ed.


My very extravagant mother just spent Uncle Ned's pay; HOMES; Every good boy does fine


Why Mnemonics?

Many adults who read the phrases above will effortlessly remember the following details: The order of the planets in our solar system (before Pluto was reclassified), the names of the five Great Lakes, and the notes that make up the treble clef in music.

How can teachers help students remember academic content with the same ease?  Mnemonics, defined by the Access Center (2004) as "a strategy that provides a visual or verbal prompt for students who may have difficulty retaining information" (p. 3), is one way teachers can make it easier for students to store and retrieve important academic information.

Preparing for Success

Mastropieri and Scruggs (2004) suggest that teachers establish the following conditions before teaching memory strategies to ensure that students are ready to learn and to focus on the new learning. Before beginning mnemonics instruction, teachers should:

  • Create an organized classroom environment that is free of distraction by using effective classroom management techniques;
  • Establish a positive classroom atmosphere where students believe they can be successful;
  • Generate interest in the content by helping students understand the value and relevance of it; and
  • Create and deliver interesting and varied lessons.

 Once the preconditions are in place, teachers can show students a variety of methods that will help them remember important information. One strategy, the keyword method, is outlined below.

The Keyword Method

The keyword method has been used for over forty years (Mastropieri & Scruggs, 2004) and has been recommended for use by a joint initiative sponsored by two divisions of the Council for Exceptional Children based on the research supporting its effectiveness (Brighman & Brighman, 2001). The method helps students remember a new word and its information by connecting the new information to a familiar vocabulary word and a picture or visual image. The steps and examples in Table 1 demonstrate the keyword method (Mastropieri & Scruggs, 2004).

Table 1:
The Keyword Method


Step Example
Determine the new word to be learned. Cardiologist = doctor specializing in issues of the heart
Provide a keyword that is familar to students, sounds similar to the new word, and easy to represent visually. Card
Create a pciture that shows the new word and the keyword in the same scene. heartcard
Lead students through a process of remembering the keyword, recalling the picture, and remembering the definition.

What was the keyword?" (Card.)

"Great! Think about the picture. What was happening in it?" (A doctor was listening to a picture of a heart on a card.)

"So, what does "cardiologist" mean? (A doctor who specializes in issues of the heart.)


The keyword method is helpful for enhancing recall of simple facts and definitions (Brighman & Brighman, 2001). This simple technique can link familiar words and images to unfamiliar content, thus improving the chances that students will be able to successfully retrieve important content information.

Online Resources to Explore

Visit Special Connections, maintained by the University of Kansas, to learn more about using mnemonics to assist students with memorizing course content at

Educators can also find a variety of resources to assist with mnemonic instruction at . For information on additional instructional practices and their accompanying research base, visit to access Current Practice Alerts. Each Alert makes a recommendation of "Go For It" (practices for which there is solid research evidence of effectiveness), or "Use Caution" (practices for which the research evidence is incomplete, mixed, or negative).


The Access Center. (2004, October). Using mnemonic instruction to facilitate access to the general education curriculum.  Washington, DC. Retrieved from the Access Center website:    

Brighman, R.,& Brighman, (2001, Summer). A focus on mnemonic instruction (Issue 5).  Retrieved from

Mastropieri, M. A., & Scruggs, T. E. (2004). The inclusive classroom. Columbus, OH: Pearson Merrill Prentice Hall.