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Mnemotechniques in learning and teaching

Ewa Wojciechowska
  1. What are mnemotechnics?

Mnemotechnics are techniques of efficient and effective memorizing of contents. Their objective is to facilitate memorizing of the material which might be difficult to learn. The techniques are based on relating the new material with the already acquired contents. Using mnemonic techniques requires activating your memory and associations which, in effect, facilitates and accelerates the learning process (Wiechnik, 2018).

The basis for boosting the competency of memorizing new contents is using cognitive synergy in the learning process. Cognitive synergy is, in other words, the ability to include imagination in knowledge acquisition. Cognitive psychology track record shows that boosting your memory skills does not require any extra cognitive skills. As the research shows, efficient learning process is most effective with people who are able to learn using synergies (Witkowska-Tomaszewska, 2020). A big advantage of mnemonic techniques is their universal nature. They may make knowledge acquisition by students of different educational potential more efficient.

The sense of mnemotechniques is related to the manner in which human memory operates. In short, memorizing consists of three basic components: coding information, storing it and retrieving it from memory. Mnomonic methods not only facilitate the process of fact coding of information in short-term memory, but they also allow for fast and efficient retrieval of information from memory. Together with fast-learning methods, mnemotechniques help combine contents whose acquisition may be difficult for a student, with easier elements that have already been acquired. They are used with different kinds of contents (Witkowska-Tomaszewska, 2020).  In other words, using mnemotechniques makes knowledge acquisition more efficient at every single stage.   

  1. Mnemotechniques in practice

Mnemotechniques may be based on different kinds of material. To construct them, you can use visual, verbal or spatial contents. They can be used both by teachers who run classes and by students who study for an important exam. A clear advantage of mnemotechniques is their flexibility: you can adjust them to the current situation in the class or individual capabilities of a given student. The four mnemotechniques described below best exemplify advantages of the presented techniques. 

Memory hooks method is about remembering a list of words called „hooks” and developing a network of associations. The task of a person using this technique is to associate the information with a familiar memory hook and create a picture of this association. The hooks are well acquired points in your memory which help you remember new information and put it in an adequate order. Putting the information in some structure by „hanging it on hooks” is some kind of a selection and segregation of information which is then helpful in memorizing and preparing for retrieval. The contents associated with a hook work may be retrieved from memory thanks to this hook (Witkowska-Tomaszewska,2020). An example of this method may be memorizing a list of words which is a string of digits as a combination of pictures in a way where each digit is assigned some picture. When retrieving a string of digits, you can retrieve pictures which trigger retrieval of digits.

You have to remember that mnemotechniques are most efficient when someone is able to create their own connotations. In literature, hook words are compared to a wardrobe with hangers inside. The hangers are always the same; the only thing that changes is what hangs on them. Hook words are a fixed fit-out of our memory and the contents that relates to it changes. (Wiechnik, 2018). When someone recalls some given material, they must recall a given hook first and the latter then triggers the desired content.

Key words method is based on making a new, unfamiliar phrase or word more concrete through changing it into an acoustically similar, though familiar phrase. For instance, the word „buncombe” means „an empty, dishonest talk.” The strategy of key words in the case of learning this notion may be based on finding a key word which is acoustically similar and easy to imagine. In this case, one can image a bun. Associating a bun with an empty, dishonest talk may be depicted as a presenter delivering their presentation to the audience who throw buns at him/her and thus express their dissatisfaction with what they hear. When one recalls the word „buncombe” at first one needs to recall the word „bun” and then this triggers an association with the imagined situation  (Cole, Fontana, Gersen, Graetz, Mastropieri, Scruggs, 2005).

    Method of natural word mediators (i.e. chain method) is about putting some order to the acquired material. When creating the imaginative „chain”, subsequent information that is to be remembered are connected one to another in the form of pictures so that they create a story. Every element is like a link that connected the previous and the next one (Witkowska-Tomaszewska, 2005, Wiechnik 2018). An important issue in using this method is to remember the first word, in particular, correctly. The first word is a trigger for the remaining elements and the contents related to them. Another type of this method is the chain association method which is based on building associations between every next pair of a string of information (Wiechnik, 2018). The chain method is exemplified by studying historical sovereigns of a selected region. In this case, one needs to imagine a queue of sovereigns. Their chain may be described by a funny riddle about a selected success of a given king. When the sovereign that is a chain link performs an action for which he’s famous, he is substituted by another sovereign.

The place method is about imagining a place whose space is used for storing important information. An example of this technique may be visualising a room with furtniture in it: a desk, a bed and a wardrobe. A person who wants to remember a list of tasks to do this week, using the place method, may imagine this room. When being in this place mentally, this person divides tasks and places them in categories, using specific places: they imagine placing a list of school duties on the desk, a list of house chores on the bed, and out-of-school tasks are placed in the wardrobe (Witkowska-Tomaszewska, 2020). This technique may be used in practice at school when delivering a presentation. Each element of the presentation may be associated with a specific part of the classroom. A presentation is like a mental walk around the classroom. When entering into the classroom, the student presents the title of the presentation. The first stop is the desk when the student talks about the topic of the presentation and its structure. The next desks correspond to subsequent points of the presentation, i.e. its contents. During this mental walk, the child may go back to the board when they will wrap up the presentation (Witkowska-Tomaszewska, 2020). In this method, one can use an imaginative space to walk around (e.g. room, corridor). An interesting alternative is using a mental scheme of one’s own body (Wiechnik, 2018). This type of imaginative material may be useful when studying, for instance, biology.

  1. How to use mnemotechniques in the learning process?

Effectiveness of the teacher’s work can be seen, among others, in the way they react to the difficulties faced by the student in the learning process. Lack of knowledge about how one should learn effectively and organize their learning plan may negatively influence results and the student’s approach towards learning. The teacher, being aware that the student may have difficulties like these, should present students with different learning and memorizing techniques. In other words, it is the teacher’s obligation to support the student in developing skills to organize, plan and control the learning process. 

Developing a mnemotechnique requires covering several stages that will allow for creating an efficient method of acting. En example mnemonic method could be constructed according to the following plan:

  1. Assign priority to the contents that should be acquired by students. In practice, this step should be based on the contents included in curricullum guides and teaching standards.
  1. The next step is to select words that are unfamiliar to students and connect them with information that is to be learnt by students.
       
  2. Then you need to create key words that will be easy for students to remember. Students should be familiar with them; the words should be concrete and they can be acoustically similar.
  1. In this moment, you have to focus on creating interactive illustrations of key words and information that should be acquired by students thanks to this method. Illustrations should be prepared with the use of different techniques, i.e. they can be drawn or cut out of magazines. They don’t need to carry significant artistic value; their contents should just be easy to recognize.
       
  2. Then, you need to present materials to the students. They should freely exercise using strategies. One needs to remember that applying mnemotechniques should be learnt.
       
  3. When students master the scheme of applying the presented mnemotechnique, they should be encouraged to use it on their own. During the presentation of new information, it is advised to ask students about an adequate strategy of learning new contents. Encouraging students to come up with their own mnemotechniques is a step forward towards engaging them to exercise the process of learning and strategic search for information (Cole et al, 2005).
  1. Why use mnemotechniques?

In the school reality, students need to acquire a great portion of information every day. Mnemonic techniques use visual and audio tips, thanks to which new information becomes more concrete and easier for students to remember. Regular students are capable of using mnemonic techniques on their own. A group of students with difficulties in learning may have it hard to develop such techniques without external help. The research shows that students with learning difficulties that were taught with mnemonic techniques were better at school (Cole et al, 2005). Developing different strategies of using mnemonic techniques in school education has a lot of potential in boosting education of students with diverse learning skills.

Apart from boosting the learning process, mnemotechniques are simply interesting for students and they encourage them to learning. They also support the process of creating cognitive resources of students by providing them with more self-confidence and opportunity to save time. They also constitute space for developing a child’s imagination and develop their creativity. A child, when using mnemotechniques, develops their skill of searching, putting structure and using information from different sources. They also master the skill of efficient use of informational techniques, relating the acquired knowledge with practice and creating the necessary experience and habits (Witkowska-Tomaszewska, 2020). One could then say that using mnemotechniques positively influences a much wider scope of competencies than the acquisition of knowledge that constitutes the curriculum.

  1. What is the importance of mnemotechniques for IDS?

Among the well-known educational contents that are the objective of HTT in creating the interdisciplinary subject, there is developing with the student a positive approach to learning and acquiring new experience. Mnemotechniques constitie a great too that perfectly corresponds with these assumptions. The student, when using mnemotechniques, constantly widens their knowledge and combines new information with the already possessed resources. Mnemotechniques may complement self-regulation of learning through using the developed scheme of learning. The student completes a plan of knowledge acquisition in line with their own cognitive skills. Using mnemotechniques has also a potential in developing independence in thinking about science and developing educational tasks.

The presented techniques have a lot of potential in boosting school education and they are used with many groups of students. An undoubted advantage of mnemotechniques is that this is a method that does not require large funds; some techniques may be delivered even for free. Sometimes the only cost of mnemotechniques is the cognitive one which develops competencies both with the teacher and the student.

Bibliography:

  • Witkowska-Tomaszewska, A. (2020) . Nowoczesna edukacja wczesnoszkolna. Jak wykorzystać mnemotechniki w procesie nauczania dzieci? W: (red.) Chodźko, E., Śliwa, M. (Edukacja w XXI wieku – teoria i metody badawcze). (s.38-49). Lublin: Wydawnictwo Naukowe TYGIEL
  • Wiechnik, R. (2018). Zastosowanie mnemotechnik w nauce szkolnej. Annales Universitatis Mariae Curie-Skłodowska Lublin- Polonia, Sectio J, Vol. XXXI, 3 s. 87-99. DOI: 10.17951/j.2018.31.3.87-99
  • Cole, V., Fontana, J., Gersen, A., Graetz, J., Mastropieri, M., Scruggs, T. (2005). Mnemonic Strategies: What Are They? How Can I Use Them? And How Effective Are They? Insights on Learning Disabilities 2(1), s. 1-17
About the author
Ewa Wojciechowska
Last year student of psychology, majoring in clinical psychology and neuropsychology at Maria Curie-Skłodowska University. She also studied law at the same university. Aims to deepen the respect for children's rights in school education and to adapt it to the developmental needs of children. Privately, she is interested in forensic psychology, and more specifically- in working with children who are participants in court proceedings.
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