You want me to remember what?!

Remembering things – like multiplication tables, grammar rules, or algebraic operations – can be made easier if there are interesting ways of learning them. Even as we embrace large ideas of learning, what needs to be learned includes many things that need to become a part of our lives, including those math facts. Often by the time we’ve graduated from high school many of the facts we’ve learned are either second nature to us (2 x 2 = 4), or they’ve been forgotten because we really didn’t need to keep hold of them over time. How to remember them in the first place is where teaching comes in. We can hand out flash cards, require rote memorization, or we can utilize techniques that Psychology Today outlines as proven strategies. Utilizing several of our senses at once can bring about longer lasting memories; and applying repetition cements learning into the circuits in our brain. Teachers have long had the opportunity to use an easy tool for this kind of learning: music.

Anecdotally, my daughter, after finishing her MLIS on the East Coast, returned home to visit with a story. She had gotten a paid internship in an archive, a place she always dreamed of working. She arrived there in the usual way, starting out as an unpaid intern doing the most mundane of tasks from cataloging materials, to cleaning them (often not a pretty job), and generally completing these tasks in the smallest of rooms at the bottom of the building, with little light and little contact with the other volunteers. Life was good because she was working with interesting things and meeting interesting people. One day one of the directors needed help on a special project, which would entail different kinds of work, mostly filing and the like. Erin volunteered, and upon arriving upstairs, her first job was to file mounds of paperwork into tall cabinets across a wide swath of real estate. The filing subject? Presidents. Crucial to the work: knowing the order of their terms of office. Did she succeed? Indeed she did. How? Like this.

Filing it one president at a time singing to herself as she went along. Eighth-grade history never meant more to her than at that moment.

The success that we can all have in times when we must fall back on rote memorization of facts can lie with how we learn it. If it’s fun – even a little bit silly – it always seems to stick somewhere in our mental back pocket, waiting to arise just when we need it.

Truthfully now, have you ever been shelving books and needed a quick reminder of where you are? (Surely you have!) Here’s what I do as I face those shelves during a particularly busy moment and I need to find that spot on the shelf for the book in hand.

The more onerous necessities of learning factual material can truly be lightened through play and mnemonic strategies.

Take a look and share some of these helpful tools:

Songs aren’t the only way to make rote learning fun. Short sayings can help us to remember important things like:

  • The Great Lakes: HOMES (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Superior)
  • The cat Peed on a MAT: to teach cell division: Prophase, Metaphase, Anaphase, Telophase

I love the rhymes that help us remember math processes: “8 times 8 went to the store to buy Nintendo 64.”

DIY folks have been touting the directive of “lefty loosey, righty tighty” for years. This helps us all remember that when opening a jar or tightening a loose screw, turning it to the left will loosen it while turning right will tighten it. This aphorism has been most helpful to me as I medicate my two dogs, Lucy and Heidi. They each take a plethora of pills for various ailments and I absolutely must not mix them up. Early on, as they began to take more and more, I discovered that if I fed each one out of one hand only, and taught them to accept only from the hand that was “theirs” the possibility of giving them the wrong medicine was mitigated. Thus: “lefty Lucy, righty Heidi” was born. It’s hard to forget..even at 5:30 a.m.!

So while clever rhymes, puns, acronyms, and songs seem to be silly, they have important uses in helping us all to remember truly important concepts and accomplish tasks in specific orders as needed.

Librarians are perfectly placed to highlight fun games for learning – storytime, posters, ongoing Youtube or other media showings at lunch, signage (post those rhymes all over!), and other instructional moments can help us all remember those tasks that are difficult to remember on our own. Flashcards just can’t accomplish what a good song can – and that song will last much longer.


Post your favorites here in the comments section – please share!


The Learning Center Exchange, January 2006.

Author: Connie Williams

NBCTeacher Librarian and author of “Understanding Government Information: a Teaching Strategy Toolkit for grades 7-12”. Member of the CA State Library Services Board, and History Room Librarian at the Petaluma Regional Library [Sonoma County Library]. She welcomes all conversation.. give a holler!

Categories: Blog Topics, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

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