Mnemonic Strategies       

What is a mnemonic strategy? 

Mnemonic strategies can be described as transformational strategies (see Transformational Strategy Teacher Tool). Transform means to change. A student uses a transformational strategy when he/she converts difficult or unfamiliar information into more manageable information. The simpler or more familiar information is learned efficiently.

n. A device, such as a formula or rhyme, used as an aid in remembering.

Mnemonic strategies are a special kind of transformational strategy because they apply specific language to learning, and connect information to be learned with key words or letters.

How can mnemonic strategies help your students?

Mnemonic strategies are helpful when a student has some grasp of the information to be learned, and needs to order it for efficient access. The order that the mnemonic applies allows the learner to retrieve information quickly.

How can you implement mnemonic strategies in order to effectively meet the diverse learning needs of students?

A warning about mnemonics, they should make learning easier not harder. I have seen students struggle to learn complicated mnemonics that someone else made up, when it would have been easier for them to learn the information outright. Mastropieri and Scruggs (1998) define mnemonics as a systematic procedure for enhancing memory. They caution that mnemonics are not a comprehensive teaching method. Moreover, mnemonics are memory strategies, not comprehension strategies.

When mnemonics are used correctly, they can streamline the learning process, giving students access to broad amounts of information. Because they learn "bridges" to other information, less working memory is required.

An advantage of mnemonics is that they can be applied to a multitude of content information, from behavior to academics to careers to hobbies. An internet search of "mnemonics" yielded 41,460 hits. Websites addressing medical mnemonics, boating mnemonics, spelling mnemonics, and bird song (yes even warbling) mnemonics were included. So, for whatever you want to teach, there is probably a mnemonic for it.

A mnemonic for appropriate behavior during class lecture is SLANT:

  1. S= Sit up
  2. L= Lean forward
  3. A= Ask Questions
  4. N= Nod your head
  5. T= Track the teacher

Each letter of SLANT is a cue for a specific action that would be appropriate for the student to take in a classroom. Moreover, the word "slant" indicates the position of the body in the classroom, where the student is slanting forward and showing interest in what is going on.

What are the different types of mnemonic strategies? 

Two types of mnemonic strategies will be discussed here.

Students use Key word mnemonics when they learn to associate unfamiliar words to be learned with words that are familiar and that may rhyme or have some physical resemblance to the target word(s).

This example comes from the following website:

In Spanish, the word "cabina" means phone booth. Invent an image of a cab trying to fit in a phone booth. When you see the word "cabina," you should be able to recall this image and thereby retrieve the meaning "phone booth."

Students use First letter mnemonics when they take the first letters in each item in a list and form a word that relates to the main idea of the list.

Example: PENS (Writing Strategy developed at the University of Kansas)

P= Pick a formula 
E= Explore words to fit the formula 
N= Note the Words 
S= Search for subject and verb

Other mnemonics may include pictures or rhymes.

How do you decide on what type of mnemonic strategy to use?

Consider your students' strengths for transforming information, and capitalize on that as much as possible. Mnemonics that relate well to your students' preferred methods of learning will be most successful. Finally, think about your favorite approaches for developing mnemonics, and prepare to teach those as examples to your students.

How do you construct your own mnemonic strategy? 

  • Analyze the information where you will apply a mnemonic.
  • Consider whether or not learning the mnemonic will make your students' learning more efficient.
  • Ensure that the mnemonic you have developed or that you will develop with your students is relevant to the information to be learned.
  • Ensure that the mnemonic has a minimum number of steps to learn.
  • Present information to be attended to and learned.


  • Teach the mnemonic using LIP (a mnemonic for introducing a lesson, or "give it some lip")

L=Link the new information to information the students already know (ex. Today we're going to learn a series of actions that will help you write a sentence. What do you know already about writing sentences?)

I=Introduce the new information to the students (ex. PENS)

P=Provide a rationale for learning the mnemonic (Why do you want to write good sentences?)

  • Reinforce (a) the students' learning of the material as well as (b) their ability to learn the mnemonic(s).

You may also consider teaching your students to develop their own

mnemonics. The University of Kansas has published a strategy for developing mnemonics. As you might suspect, that strategy also has a mnemonic as part of the instruction, or LINCS.



L=List the parts
I= Indicate a reminding word
N=Note a LINCing story
C=Construct a LINCing picture

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