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Learning is Fun with Mnemonics
By E. Andrew Martonyi, Author of 'The Little Man In the Map: With
Clues to Remember All 50 States' and 'The Little Man In the Map
Teaches the State Capitals!'
Our first reaction to the word "mnemonic" might understandably be: Who spells a word
starting with m and n together, then pronounces
the word as if the m didn’t exist? Well, the word is derived from the ancient Greek word mnemonikos, meaning “of memory,” and the m
is almost silent. Mnemonikos is related to Mnemosyne, “memory,"
the name of the goddess of memory, mother of the Muses in
According to the dictionary, the word "mnemonics" functions as an adjective "assisting or intended to assist memory." One common mnemonic phrase is “spring forward, fall back.” We use it to help us remember to set the clocks forward when Daylight Savings Time begins in the spring, and set them back an hour when it ends in the fall.
Another example is the mnemonic "knuckle" that tells us which months have 31 days. (You begin with January on the knuckle of your left pinky, moving to the right to touch a knuckle for every other month. Repeat to fit in the whole year.)
An acronym is another commonly used mnemonic tool when derived from the first letters of the list of things we are trying to remember. HOMES is a great example of an acronym that helps us remember the names of the Great Lakes.
Mnemonics can be fine-
We can also use visual mnemonics to help us sort out whether the above phrases refer to size or to location. One suggestion is that you think of onions strung on a line for the order of the lakes, and think of a horse must eat to indicate their relative sizes.
In my book, The Little Man In the Map: With Clues to Remember All 50 States, I use several mnemonic forms to help students remember the name, shape, and location of each state. The idea behind this is that, while students can remember the names of the states using several mnemonic tools such as The Fifty States Songs, unless they know where those states are relative to each other, they cannot properly picture the map of the United States.
To help this process, I used rhymes for the text of my book. Children especially find rhymes intriguing and learn them easily, especially when the text is amusing. Not only are rhymes excellent learning tools, they are also effective aids to retaining what has been learned. I used them throughout my book to make learning easy and fun.
I also use visual mnemonics in my book. These memory aids, especially for visual
learners, create vivid pictures that are easy to recall later. Ed Olson, who illustrated
the book, worked for Disney for 20 years. He created illustrations that are fun to
look at and are extremely child-
Acronyms, as stated above, are another helpful memory aid, and are used throughout the book. For example, to remember the order of the states represented by the table’s legs, I use the acronym MAGS for Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina.
To remember the order of the Four Corners states, both acronym and rhyme are used:
To learn those states
Just know UCAN.
Spell a clue:
Put U and C
On A and N,
And you can do it too!
And indeed, the students, and U CAN do it!
My intention in using these visual, rhyming, and acronymic mnemonic is to take students
away from the tedious and unreliable rote-
E. Andrew Martonyi 'The Fun Geography Guy' is the author of the children's geography books 'The Little Man In the Map: With Clues to Remember All 50 States' and 'The Little Man In the Map Teaches the State Capitals!'. Both books as well as free coloring page downloads, are available online from Schoolside Press at