Acronyms are new words or phrases formed when we creatively combine information. Teaching students how to create acronyms is a fun and engaging way to activate schema: connecting known words and ideas to new information. Acronyms are useful memory aids for helping students to understand and apply disciplinary concepts and methods. For example, “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally” is an elaboration of the well-known acronym “PEDMAS” used in math to remember order of operations.
- Find examples of acronyms that you’ve created or are familiar to students that can serve as a model.
- Formulate a list of disciplinary concepts or methods that you want students to remember and immediately use within the lesson.
- Have sample words that students may use to create acronyms.
- Determine student groupings. First, have students write one acronym on their own to familiarize themselves with the process. After providing feedback, put students into groups to finalize their acronyms.
- Begin by introducing students to acronyms that are commonly used. Ask students why acronyms are used in these instances. Present students with examples of discipline- specific acronyms and ask them what purpose they serve in learning.
Other widely known examples are “RICE” for treating a sprain with Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation, and “Roy G. Biv” for the spectrum colors (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet).
- Ask students to list the essential attributes of something you are teaching them, such as how to perform the scientific method or how to write a strong introduction.
- Create an anchor chart of the list.
- Have students summarize each attribute into a single key word within their groups.
- Have students sequence the words into a phrase or word that most makes sense to them.
Acronyms can be time-consuming. Assure students that the process takes time because it involves synthesizing new material. Encourage students to rearrange key words as they see fit. The acronym doesn’t have to be an actual word, but should make logical sense to the students.
- Allow students to explain their acronyms to the class, describing their thinking process and rationale.