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Keyword Mnemonics


Through this activity students create an association with a familiar word and an image to assist in remembering sets of information. This process develops students’ metacognition, and helps them to become more mindful and effective in their studying

Learning Strategies 

  • Connecting
  • Metacognition

Lesson Plan Stages 

  • Investigation
  • Reflection

Content Areas 

  • ELA
  • Math
  • Science
  • Social Studies

Common Core Instructional Shifts 

  • Building Knowledge in the Discipline
  • Metacognition


Identify items that you would like students to work on remembering. You can also allow students to choose their own topics to work on from a unit of study. This strategy is particularly useful in remembering information that comes in pairs, such as words and their meanings, foreign words and English translations, or countries and their primary exports.

Activity Steps 
  1. The teacher leads students in a brief discussion about what mnemonics are, and why people might use them. Students share mnemonics that they are familiar with.

    Students should know that mnemonics are tricks or tools that people use to remember something more easily or more completely. You may want to make sure that students recognize the common etymology of the words “remember,” “memory,” and “mnemonics.”

  2. Teacher introduces the idea of keywords, and presents some examples to students. Teacher creates a visual display of the two steps of this strategy.

    This is a two-step strategy. First, students associate the target word with a familiar and similar-sounding word. The familiar, similar-sounding word should be easy to visualize. Next, students create a visual image of the familiar word and the concept or meaning linked to the target word. For example, if students were learning the word “flippant,” they could associate it with the word “flip,” and then visualize a person making a flippant remark and then performing a flip. If students were learning the concept of “survival of the fittest,” they could associate it with “survival of the fist,” and then visualize similar animals fighting with one another and the strongest ones winning. You will want to come up with some examples from your subject area and model thinking aloud to create them for your students.

  3. Teacher presents students with the information that students will be working on. Students prepare to work individually or in pairs.

    As mentioned above, you can give students a list of the information they should learn (often a list of terms or concepts), or you can direct students towards a unit of study and ask them to identify information that they need help remembering.

  4. For each term, students brainstorm a familiar word that sounds like the target word. Students record these acoustically associated words.

    Circulate as students are working and help them if they are stuck. You may want students to organize their work on index cards (a card for each term) or in a four-column chart (one column for the first word, another for the associated term, another for the image, and a final one for the concept related to the target term).

  5. Students visualize an image that links the associated word with the meaning of each target term. Students draw each image. They may also want to write a phrase or sentence describing each image.

    At first students should draw these images but eventually they should work towards doing it entirely mentally.

  6. Students get in pairs. Each student describes his/her keywords and images to the partner. Then, partners take turns quizzing each other on the information, and use their keywords to aid in recall.

    You can circulate among pairs at this point, to gauge understanding and help students who are struggling. You can ask students questions about how this strategy is aiding recall.

  7. Alone or in groups, in conversation or in writing, students reflect on their learning process.

    Students respond to questions including: · How will this strategy help you to remember this information? · How will this strategy help you to study for a test? · How do keyword visualizations make information easier to remember? · How does each step of this process help in learning and memory? · What other tricks might you use to remember something more easily or more completely? · When else might you use this mnemonic strategy?

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