Enhancing Student Learning and Social Behavior through Mnemonic Strategies

By Kleinheksel, Karen A.; Summy, Sarah E. | Teaching Exceptional Children, November/December 2003 | Go to article overview

Enhancing Student Learning and Social Behavior through Mnemonic Strategies


Kleinheksel, Karen A., Summy, Sarah E., Teaching Exceptional Children


Will, a seventh-grade student in Mrs. Smith's social studies class, was experiencing difficulty remembering important facts and concepts; and his continuing memory challenges were affecting his grades. Mrs. Smith, the teacher in this inclusive classroom, engaged Will's other teachers in a campaign to teach Will-and all the other students-memory strategies, or mnemonics, that would help in retention of information and in boosting academic performance. This article tells Will's story and, along the way, discusses severa mnemonic strategies and shows how to use them.

Today, educators are presented with a variety of challenges, particularly for students with emotional and behavior disorders. A major challenge for today's teachers is how to best meet the educational needs of this population. One aspect, often forgotten when determining interventions, is the role curriculum and teaching strategies play in enhancing student learning and social behavior (see box, "What Does the Literature Say?").

Mnemonic Strategies

Mnemonic strategies lend themselves to many uses (Mastropieri, Sweda, & Scruggs, 2000). Teachers use the strategies whenever they want students to remember important information. Mnemonics have various uses in the areas of English, foreign language vocabulary, science, history, geography, social studies, math, phonics, and spelling (Mastropieri & Scruggs, 1991). Although we know of many mnemonic strategies, we review just three specific types of mnemonic strategies: (1) the letter strategy, (2) the keyword mnemonic strategy, and (3) the pegword mnemonic strategy. We have found these strategies particularly effective with students with emotional or behavioral disorders, as well as many other students.

Letter Strategy

The first type of mnemonic strategy is the letter strategy, which is the most familiar to students (Mastropieri & Scruggs, 1998). The letter strategy includes acronyms and acrostics. Acronyms create new words by merging the first letters of a listing of words. A commonly used example is HOMES, the acronym for the five Great Lakes of North America: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior. Remembering the association to the Great Lakes is critical, because the beginning letter may not be an adequate prompt if the associated names of the Great Lakes are not learned completely. For example, if the name Huron is unfamiliar, then letter "H" alone may not be sufficient to prompt retrieval (Scruggs & Mastropieri, 2000).

According to Scruggs and Mastropieri (2000), acrostics are comparable to acronyms, but consist of sentences. The first letter of each sentence stands for a different word and is useful when information needs to be remembered in order. Common examples include "Kids playing croquet on freeways get smashed," to remember life science's classification system. This system contains Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, and Species. Another example is "King Henry died an ugly death called mumps," to remember the names of the metric system's prefixes of Kilo, Hecto, Deka, unit, Deci, Centi, and Milli. In this case, words are represented by more than one letter in the sentence.

It is evident that the letter strategy is used to help students remember a list of words related to the same topic. To create an acronym, students first make a list of the related words to be remembered. If necessary, they need to notice whether words must be remembered in a certain order and be careful to copy them in that order. Then, students work with the first letters of the items in the list to see if they form a related word or a nonsense word that is close to an already known word.

If the letters do not immediately form a word, they are rearranged to form a word or a letter is inserted to help form a word (Schumaker, Bulgren, Deshler, & Lenz, 1998). In some cases, appropriate words are not easily constructed from the first letters of the words to be remembered. …

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