Activities and Games, Article

Winning Ideas for Remembering Key Concepts

  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

Read how other teachers use mnemonics and other memory devices to help their students remember important facts.

Hands-On Engagement Is the Best
Submitted by Katie Ensell, Pointview Elementary School, Westerville, OH

I have THE WORST memory ever! Even those little tricks, like for remember the order of the planets, I cannot even remember. The only one I know is "Never Eat Sour Wheat" for the compass directions. That said, I DO remember this amazing lesson on landforms that we did in the 3rd grade with making maps with some sort of flour/paper mache stuff. In the 2nd grade we wrote letters to pen pals and I still remember how to spell 'sincerely'. In pre-school, I remember going on a hunt for the gingerbread boy and have had the story memorized ever since. So, what works better.... memorization or engagement?

Sometimes there is a time when you just HAVE TO memorize something. I acknowledge that completely! Like when Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

But in terms of the long run, my goal as a teacher is for the students to learn these ideas deeply; to be able to recall and relate these ideas in many contexts.

Based off this belief, I have tried very hard to make at least one lesson from each unit a hands-on and engaging experience.
- For habitats, we created a giant igloo out of re-used take out containers
- For recylcing, we made "Art Museum Sculptures" with re-used materials that they brought in from home
- For addition, we used little cookies they got to eat for a snack

In kindergarten, the students WANT to do it themselves, so why not? Research shows that lasting learning occurs when students are 'in charge' of their own learning...when they're making their own meaning.

The best way that I know of for students to remember anything is to make it engaging and to make them involved in the process. The students seem to remember less if I am telling them or having them watch me do something. By letting them 'get their hands dirty' in their own learning, the students are involved. And, boy, does it make a difference!

Capacity Conversion Chart
Submitted by Renee Parker, Selinsgrove School, Selinsgrove, PA

My third grade students always have trouble remembering the relationship between gallon, quart, pint and cup. And, they have an even more difficult time converting one measurement to another. I have each student create a VERY simple drawing to help them remember the relationship between each measurement and convert them from one to another quickly. Each student draws a large, capital G (for gallon) on a sheet of plain white paper. Inside of the G, they draw four capital Q's (for quarts). Inside of each Q, they draw two capital P's (for each pint in a quart) and inside of each P, they draw two C's (for each cup in a pint). Students can look quickly at their relationships based on each letter's size. They can also look at the drawing and know that one gallon has the same value as four quarts, or eight pints or 16 cups. It is so easy and quick, and the students can easily use the visual aid. In the past we have drawn the well-known 'capacity man,' and this is so much more student and teacher-friendly! It's also much easier for students to draw individually on their scrap paper when completing our state test. A copy of the drawing is attached!

Multiplication Facts Riddles
Submitted by Kelly Small, East Port Elementary, Eastport, NY

I realize the importance of helping kids memorize information and key concepts. Visual memory is very important for students since many lessons are done through the use of visual aids. It's important to make your strategy to improve visual memory in your students as fun as possible. If you can make it a game, your students will grasp the information and look forward to learning more! Here are some things I do in my third grade class to help my students memorize and learn key concepts:

The Picture Game: The picture game is one way that you can help to improve the visual memory of your students. The game involves a simple picture. Choose one that has both foreground and background elements. Make sure to start out with simple pictures before moving on to ones that are more complex since you will be asking the students to recall the images on the picture. Next, hide the picture and ask the student to recall as much information about the objects in the picture and ask specific questions such as colors and sizes as well as locations. Then increase the difficulty as each session or level is massed.

Using riddles to memorize multiplication facts: The students will make up multiplication riddles to help them memorize their facts. For example:

I ate (eight) and I ate (eight)

And I fell on the floor.

I didn't get up until I was 64.

Mnemonic Devices: I use a lot of mnemonic devices to help the students memorize information and key concepts in all subject areas.

Science: The Solar System-Order of the planets- My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nachos

Social Studies: the first letters of the five Great Lakes (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior) spell HOMES.

Greater Than, Less Than
Submitted by Renee Parker, Selinsgrove School, Selinsgrove, PA

My students can determine a greater number when given two numbers; however, they always have trouble remembering how to draw the greater than, less than sign. In order to help them draw the symbol correctly, I ask them to decide which number is greater and give that number two dots, one on top of the other with a little space in between. Then, they give the number that is less only one dot because one is less than two. Finally, they connect the dots starting at the top dot of the greater number, over to the only dot beside the lesser number and back to the bottom dot of the greater number. VOILA! There is the correct symbol!

Imagery Triggers Memory
Submitted by Kelly Brown, Cherryville Elementary, Cherryville, NC

One of the ways I help my first graders remember important/key information is to give them something they can relate to. For example, when we are working with greater than/less than, I tell them to imagine the sign is a crocodile. He is ONLY going to eat the biggest number. In the beginning, it is so cute to watch some of them draw teeth on the sign. But pretty soon my students just remember it and no longer do that! It is so fun to think of things that can help my students put meaning to thing that will help them remember information! Another thing we use is the gallon man (G Man) to help when we are learning about capacity. It really helps them relate to what we are learning when things are presented in a fun and different way! If you have any questions, just let me know! I love sharing ideas I have used and hopefully someone can use them.

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