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USING MNEMONICS TO TEACH YOUNG

LEARNERS
Dr. Ee Chop Ler
Universiti Darul Iman Malaysia.

Creativity is a talent all of us are born with but it needs practice to stay vibrant and
grow. The purpose of this paper is to share the idea of creativity put into practice when
teaching English to young learners. This technique explores potential, taps into the
creative instincts, develops imagination, gets over creative block and fear of failure,
develops a daily practice of creativity exercises and most important provides nourishment
to keep imagination alive. Teaching and learning a foreign language need a way as every
activity has a process or way. Learning is effective if the way is fun and inspiring. The
educational philosophy in multi cultural Malaysia expects educational institutions to
produce proficient and creative English speakers. However, most young learners still
encounter problems with grammar, spelling, vocabulary and pronunciation despite years
of learning English. No two students can be the same in terms of cultural background,
learning experience and motivation. I have tried using mnemonics in classes which has
proven to be motivating and enjoyable as young learners are fully engaged in the process
of learning. Using mnemonics can help young learners utilize and reinforce their previous
language knowledge to think out of the box as it requires imagination and a thinking
mind. Besides, mnemonics cater to different learning styles e.g. visual learners remember
things in pictures while kinesthetic learners learn best by drawing. Mnemonics transforms
passive learners to active participants by allowing them to interact and using critical
thinking skills to develop the capability to become autonomous learners. This paper
discusses class application, hence providing some insights for teachers, material
developers, curriculum designers and researchers to reflect on mnemonics as a teaching
technique in teaching young learners.

KEYWORDS-Mnemonics, Types of mnemonics: Visual, Music, Name, Spelling,
Expression, Word, Model, Ode, Rhyme, language learning, Styles of learning, Visual
learning, Auditory and Kinesthetic learning,



Introduction

Mnemonics (ni-mon-iks) is the art of assisting the memory by using a system of artificial
aids like rhymes, images, rules, phrases, diagrams, acronyms and other devices to help in
the recall of names, dates, facts and figures .Solso (1995, p 259) defines mnemonics as
techniques or devices such as rhyme or an image that serves to enhance the storage and
the recall of information contained in memory. According to Mastropieri & Scruggs,
1989, Bulgren, Schumaker & Deshler, 1994) ,mnemonics have also proven to be
extremely effective in helping learners remember things as systematic procedures are used
for enhancing memory. New facts are presented in such a way which fits in or relates
meaningfully to what is already known, and then they will be retained for relatively longer
periods of time as retrieval through verbal or visual clues becomes easier. Such a strategy
helps in the teaching of a foreign language in a native speaking environment.

Mnemonics rely not only on repetition to remember facts, but also on associations
between ease to remember constructs and lists of data, based on the principle that the
human mind much more easily remembers insignificant data attached to spatial, personal
or otherwise meaningful information than that occurring in meaningless sequences. These
techniques also require the art of imagination and a good mind as mnemonics impose a
plan of meaningful organization. Creative avenues can be exploited to provide learners the
chance to achieve some level of success as it is also our duty as teachers to tap creativity
in every learner. (Beetlestone, 1998).Mnemonics work as a memory aid precisely as they
mimic natural organizational schemata associated with meaningful materials.(Wingfield,
1979)

Empirical studies carried out on the college students in cognitive psychology (Searleman
& Herrman, 1994: Ormond, 1995) involving free and serial recall and association learning
show that when an individual learns new things, he or she is not just a passive recorder of
associations but an active participant who manipulates information according to various
memory strategies. Students will remember information which is meaningful and personal
to them based on their personal experience and the kind of work at hand. Paul, (1996)
believes that learners are also likely to remember things that are unique and unusual.

Types of mnemonics

There are many types of mnemonics and which type works best is limited only by the
imagination of each individual. The basic ones are Music, Name, Expression/Word,
Model, and Ode/Rhyme, Note organization image, Connection, Spelling and Physical
mnemonics (Appendix 1 & 2). One can create a song or jingle using any type of music
one chooses e.g. teaching children alphabet by singing the ABC song. In Name
mnemonics, the first letter of each word in a list of items is used to make a name of a
person or thing. Sometimes the items can be rearranged to form Name mnemonics e.g.
ROY.G.BIV where one learns the colors of spectrum (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue,
Indigo, Violet), the 7 coordinating conjunctions- For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So as
FANBOYS and for the operations of Parentheses, Exponents, Multiply, Divide, Add and
Subtract, one uses Please Excuse My Dear Aunty Sally. Model mnemonics include a
circular sequence model, a pie chart and sequence boxes while Ode or Rhyme mnemonics
is the poem which can be used like counting the numbers of days in each month e.g.
September, April, June and November 30days ,all the rest have 31,except February
my dear students, it has 28 and that is fine.

Mnemonics in language learning

According to Beglar & Hunt, (1995), learners with large vocabularies are more proficient
readers than those with limited ones; as building a large vocabulary is essential in the
learning of a language. One cognitive strategy that has proved to be effective in the
memorization of vocabulary is Atkinsons keyword (Atkinson, 1975) .Students connect
the sound of a word they are learning to one they already know in either their first
language or the target language. Then create an image to help remember the association
(Pressley, Levin & Delaney, 1982).This strategy is effective with respect to words which
have high degree of imageability (Richardson,1980) or to pair words forming some kind
of semantic link (Ellis,1995). In vocabulary learning linking new meanings to language
that is already known is a positive element (Richardson, 1980, Schmitt &Schmitt, 1955:
Ney, 1996: Gray, 1997) and these links are commonly known as cognitive strategies and
are widely reported in vocabulary learning research. These strategies provide mnemonics
devices that produce a deep level of semantic processing of the word in question (Craik,
1979: Stevick.1976.

Mnemonics can also be used to teach spelling, pronunciation and grammar especially to
language learners with disabilities and low achievers. It can be used to increase learning
and memory of these groups. As teachers we often tell them this and that material but do
not teach how to utilize them. According to Gray, (1997) mnemonics can effectively help
them.

Mnemonics and Learning styles

Mixed ability learners have different learning styles. The aim of teachers is to reach all of
our students but since each comes from different backgrounds, the teacher has to monitor
each and every student and to reach their needs in a variety of ways to achieve effective
teaching. According to Paul (1996) the way in which we learn best can be classified into
visual learning, auditory and kinesthetic learning. Visual learners find it easier to
remember things they see either written in picture form or as a picture in the mind.
Auditory learners learn best by hearing things. They remember what they hear more easily
than what they see. On the other hand, kinesthetic learners learn best by actually doing it
through touch and movement. Hands on learning activities suit them to just seeing or
hearing about something. However it is uncommon to come across a student who is solely
a visual or an auditory or kinetics learner .A learner can have mixed learning styles. But
the way in which people learn affects the sort of mnemonics they should consider using to
store information.

CLASSROOM APPLICATION OF MNENOMICS
According to Jefree and Skeffington (1980), slow language achievers who have reached
the stage of reading or responding to pictures need help before they can respond to words
in print. To bridge the gap is to make use of symbol accentuated to visual mnemonics.
Richard MacAndrew in the Practical English teaching magazine (December 1985) entitled
Picture a word shares this idea to help low achievers to remember words. (Appendix
3).It involves designing pictorial representations of words to make them memorable.

Image mnemonics is constructed in the form of pictures that promotes the recall of
information when you need it. It is easier to recall the sillest Image mnemonics e.g. the
capital of Australia, my students will remember a can on the map of Australia or meeting
someone called Mary Horsely, by visualizing Mary sitting on horse, silly but effective in
recall. To remember a numismatist, I ask students to visualize a mist rolling onto a beach
and beach is made of coins. (Appendix 2) .This sillyography makes it easier to remember
that a numismatist is a coin collector. Connection mnemonics is used to remember the
direction of longitude and latitude when you realize that lines on a globe that run north
and south are long and that coincides with longitude. Connection mnemonics also points
out that there is an N in loNgitude and an N in North. Latitude lines must run east to west,
then because there is no N in Latitude.(Appendix 2) .Finally, I use spelling mnemonics
e.g. princiPal at school is your PAL and a princiPLE you believe or follow is a rule,
difference between effect/affect, stalactites & stalagmites etc (Appendix 5 & 6).

Mnemonics can also be used to teach confusing words for example lend/borrow
principal/principle/stationery/stationary,price/prize,whether/weather, bored/boring,
desert/dessert, life/live, affect /effect etc)learners can learn better using mnemonics.
(Appendix 3)

Some learners from multiracial backgrounds also face problems in simple grammatical
items such as subject, pronouns, possessive adjectives and even tenses. According to
Chitravelu et al, (1995) the third person singular (he/she/it) is nonexistent in Bahasa
Melayu or Mandarin. Hence Malay and Chinese learners often face problems with subject-
verb agreement (Appendix 4).To help the students remember better, a formula is given.
Music mnemonics can also be used to teach grammatical items like articles, future tense
etc (Appendix 9-11).

Apart from that, visual mnemonics can also be used to help students improve and
remember vocabulary related to descriptions like moods and emotions (Appendix 4)
Chitravelu et al., (1995) believes that visuals are effective in expressing meaning. Lewis
(1990) also points out that word association and imagery have been long recognized as
one of the most effective ways of absorbing information, since visual/pictorial memory is
stronger than the visual/verbal memory. To teach the word beanstalk, Mr. Beans image
is referred as learners are familiar with Mr. Bean therefore can remember better.
(Appendix 7)

I also apply mnemonics to help students remember the pronunciation of words and
vocabulary e.g. how to pronounce together, stomachache, mall, beanstalk, eligible,
illegible, colors etc(Appendix 7) According to Gordon (1998) English spelling is difficult
as the relationship of sound to letter symbol is less regular than in other languages.
Students can also associate the words with L1 in teaching pronunciation of certain words
which is effective when learning basic vocabulary of a new language and try to make
some sort of meaning bridge between the target word and its L1 translation. (Appendix
11) If the bridge is farfetched or ridiculous it is better for memorization, as this bridge can
be clearly visualized in the learners mind (Wallace, 1987). I have also adapted the
Narrative mnemonics strategy to help in the remembering of singular nouns (Appendix 8)
and write essay followed by a cloze passage exercise with image mnemonics to guide the
students.

Atkinsons keyword is effective in teaching English or foreign vocabulary as it involves
two stages, an acoustic link stage in which the learner acquires a keyword familiar with
English that sounds like salient part of the foreign word which also can be pictured and an
imagery link stage in which learner must form a visual image in which the keyword and
the English translation are interacting in some manner e.g. the Spanish carta sounds like
the English cart. This cart is the keyword which links the keyword with the English
meaning of the foreign word by forming an interactive image (e.g. carta means letter so
you can visualize a letter inside a cart) and ideally it can be used for vocabulary learning
and for recall of specific relatively isolated facts like peoples name. It is versatile
involving some kind of association between one or more unfamiliar words, names or facts
or more words that the users already knows and or can remember more easily the new
information e.g. to teach Barrister, I explain the definition of single word-barrister.
Students work to create a word e.g. Bear which sounds like the new word and are easily
pictured. I create a picture of bear and lawyer side by side. (Appendix 11)

I also introduce the peg system where one or more pieces of information get associated
with or pegged to some set of more familiar sequential information e.g. One is bun, two is
shoe, three is tree, four is door, five is hive, six is stick, seven is heaven, eight is gate, nine
is vine and lastly ten is hen. (Appendix 5) Another example is invent a relationship
between the name and physical characteristics or adjectives of the person e.g. Shirley
Temple-her curly (rhymes with Shirley) hair around her temples, Magnificient Mahani,
Talented Teja, Raving Badawi etc (Appendix 4)

Songs, together with music are utilized in my class to teach grammatical items. The song
Five hundred miles is used to teach articles, Que Sera Sera ,to explain future tense,
This old man to illustrate possessive adjectives and for Infinitives, The Happy
Wanderer can be used. Students enjoy singing as well as learning in an enjoyable way.
(Appendix 11) We even have a singing contest in class which turns out to be an
educational cum entertainment lesson.

In grammar teaching, learners can put the topics into few subtopics according to the titles
by using mind mapping mnemonics. The subtitles are divided into few sections according
to their facts and put in suitable and easy to remember using acronyms and acrostics.
Hence they can save learners time, enhance understanding of grammar and most
importantly of all, strengthen thinking skills and memory power as well as retain what
they have studied.( Appendix 9 -11 ). Besides, this technique taps the creativity of the
learners as they learn to construct mind maps on their own based on their understanding of
the facts and concepts learned.

Lastly, activities in mnemonics can be used to reinforce language learning outside
classroom. I usually give lists of vocabulary to students during vacation which they can
refer and assigned to come out with pictorial representations of these words. (Appendix12)
It is encouraging as learners come out with their own list of words taken from their
reading activities. These words can be newly learnt and they are expected to create their
own folios. I will then organize a poster competition to display students pieces of work
for the other students to view and learn. This is also one of the ways of boosting slow
learners self esteem and morale by tapping their ability to think, be innovative and enjoy
learning English.


IMPLICATIONS ON LEARNING AND TEACHING

Learners can retrieve information more effectively and be active participants in the
learning process possessing long term memory in learning and remembering. They are
also more creative and enjoy using their minds more productively as perception and
thought are continuous things we experience as real and have attributes in that area to
carry over to our memory. Mnemonics is unique as words can be converted into symbols
and long speech can be converted into series of images can be stored using location
mnemonics.

Visual mnemonics and diagrams have important implications for teaching as obviously,
much of the material learned in schools are of a visual nature-e.g. graphs, diagrams etc
Levin (1981) has extended the work of Atkinson to other types of school related learning
tasks like vocabulary learning (e.g. Levin Mc Cormick, Miller, Berry and Pressley, 1982),
learning the name of US presidents (Levin, 1981) and information about famous people
(Shriberg, Levin, Mc Cormick & Pressley, 1982). To Paivio (1971) mnemonics organize
information, make use of the power of association, provides retrieval cues, prevent
interference between pieces of information as well as make use of novelty or
distinctiveness.

I would like to share some pointers on the creation of effective mnemonics Firstly, use
positive pleasant images as the brain often blocks out unpleasant ones. Exaggerate the size
of important parts of the image and use humor as funny or peculiar things as they are
easier to remember than normal ones. Likewise rude or sexual rhymes are difficult to
forget. To quote Fletcher (2001), the more comical the more likely to be encoded by the
learners as our brains are best at remembering outrageous and extraordinary silly things.
Vivid colorful images are easier to remember than drab one. Remember that your
mnemonics can contain sounds, smells, touch, movements and feelings as well as pictures.
Bringing three dimensions and movement to an image can make it more vivid. Movement
can be used either to maintain the flow of association or can help to remember actions.
The most important is that mnemonics should clearly relate to the things being
remembered and that it should be vivid enough to be clearly remembered whenever you
think about it.

Conclusion
Using mnemonics has important implications in ESL/EFL teaching. Students are highly
motivated and can express their minds more productively; even weaker ones can produce
original and creative pieces of work giving the testament that every learner has
imaginative potential. Besides, mnemonics is a considered task based activity, one of the
best strategies to language teaching. Beetlestone (1998) believes that the classroom should
therefore provide as safe environment for risk taking, problem solving and
experimentation which will provide the necessary challenge and opportunity for
originality. According to Kyriacou (1986) teaching is seen as involving a change from a
passive acquisition of knowledge towards activities which help learner to discover and
develop their creative abilities by doing, making and organizing. Finally, mnemonics
enhances the ability of learners to organize, retrieve information, and increase learners self
esteem as well as their learning e.g. visual mnemonics bridge the boundaries between
words and meanings hence enhance lifelong and independent learning in the learners.
Therefore teachers should reflect on this technique in order to exploit new challenges to
help learners learn easily.

REFERENCES

Atkinson, R.C.1975. Mnemotechnics in second- language learning American
Psychologist, 30:821-828

Beetlestone, F 1998. Creative Children, Imaginative teaching Buckingham: Open
university Press

Beglar, D.& Hunt,A,1995.Vocabulary and reading: teaching and testing. In G.van Troyer,
S. Cornwell,& H. Morikawa ( Eds)Proceedings of the JALT 1995 International
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Chitravelu, N Sithamparam, S and Teh Soo Choon, 1995 ELT Methodology: Principles
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Fletcher,M 2001 Teaching for success: The Brain-friendly Revolution in action. Great
Britian: English Experience

Jefree, D and Skeffington, M, 1980 Let Me Read. London: Souvenir Press (Educational
and Academic) Ltd

MacAndrew, R 1985. Picture a word. Practical English Teacher December 13-14

Mastopieri, M. A.& Scruggs, T. E. 1989.Constructing more meaningful relationships:
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Solso, R.L 1995 Cognitive Psychology (4
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Wright, A 1984 1000 Pictures for Teachers to copy. London: Collins ELT