Improving Your Students’ Memorization Skills with the Method of Loci

Improve Your Students’ Memorization Skills

Improve Your Students’ Memorization Skills

As a freelance writer, I get the opportunity to learn about a really wide variety of topics.  Some are a little mundane, while others are downright fascinating.  Some time ago, I was asked to write on one of the most interesting subjects of my career: memory.  After just a little research into how to improve your memory, I found myself wondering why on earth these techniques weren’t taught in schools!

After all, you are expected to memorize an awful lot of stuff in school.  Not only that, but there are some pretty practical applications outside of the classroom, especially when it comes to the professional world.  Knowing how to get the most from your memory can mean a huge difference when it comes to doing well in college, impressing your boss, and making the big promotion.

One of the simplest techniques I came across is something that could easily be taught in a single classroom lesson.  It’s called the Method of Loci, and it is helpful in memorizing seemingly random lists.  It’s practical applications are pretty impressive, as you can use it to memorize a grocery list, a series of steps in a process, the errands you need to do this afternoon, or even different types of items from a geography, science, or other lesson.

How the Method of Loci Works

Did you know that human brains are wired to remember places?  Think about a house that you’ve visited only a couple of times.  Chances are, you can remember the layout of it pretty well.  So, when it comes to a place you spend considerable time (like, say your classroom), you’ve got a great “roadmap” already set up in your head.

The idea is to use this roadmap to visualize the various items in predetermined places.  When you take a mental walk through the classroom, you are able to see where you “placed” each item to recall it.

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Method of Loci Example

Try this on your own, and once you’re suitably impressed, you can do it with your students to offer them a whole new way to remember things.

Picture your classroom, and pick out several locations (“loci”) within it.  Start at the door and work your way clockwise around the room.  We’ll use a fictional classroom as an example, but you’ll want to use your own room.   So, let’s say that when working your way around the outer edge of your room you come across these 12 places (loci), in order.

  1. Classroom door
  2. Bulletin board
  3. Cabinets
  4. Computer station
  5. White board
  6. Teacher’s desk
  7. Guinea pig cage
  8. Windows
  9. Students’ cubbies
  10. Art center
  11. Counter
  12. Sink

The next step is to place each item from your list in one of these places.  BUT, you want to create something novel about each item.  Our minds are better at recalling unusual information, so creating outlandish images will help with recall.  Not only that, but the kids will have fun helping you come up with ideas.

In our example, we’ll be memorizing the daily schedule at the beginning of the school year.  How many times does a teacher hear “What are we doing next?” especially early on in the year?  Giving kids this method to remember can empower them to have the information, as well as to cut down on your own frustration.  Your daily schedule might look something like this:

  1. Pledge of allegiance
  2. Physical Education
  3. Reading
  4. Recess
  5. Math
  6. Science
  7. Lunch
  8. Music
  9. History
  10. Recess
  11. Center Time
  12. Geography

To remember that the morning starts with the pledge, visualize that the door of your classroom has been replaced by a huge American flag that you have to move out of the way like a curtain to get into the room.  The next activity is P.E. class, which you could remember by visualizing the bulletin board as a gymnasium, complete with basketball court lines drawn on it.  (Note: You’re not really drawing this, rather you and the students are visualizing it.)  Maybe even take a vote on students’ favorite player and see him making a slam dunk in your bulletin board gym.

Next up are the cabinets.  When you mentally open them, picture an entire library’s worth of books falling out like an avalanche, burying the teacher in books to remember that it’s time for Reading.  After Reading, it’s time for recess, which you can remember by visualizing your computer growing arms and legs and running out the door and onto the playground where it swings from the monkey bars.

Remember that you want your images to be memorable.  Making things gigantic is one method for doing this, as is giving inanimate objects human traits.  Another way to do this is to substitute something you’d expect to find for something totally different.  For example, in order for the sink to remind you of Geography, you might want to picture it as being full of a teeny-tiny ocean with all the continents of the world floating in it.  Exaggeration also works well for making something novel and memorable, which is why we had an entire library’s worth of books fall out of the cabinet and bury the teacher in order to remember Reading time.  Action also works really well, as we tend to remember movement better than pictures, as is the case with the computer jumping up and swinging on the monkey bars.

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You Try It

This method really can be astounding.  In order to prove to yourself that it works, come up with a grocery list of 15-20 items.  Go ahead and look at it for a minute and see how many of the items you can remember on your own (7-9 is pretty typical).  Now, choose a place (your classroom, your house, the home where you grew up, etc.), and use the tips above to place each item.  Make interesting associations using exaggeration, size, action, and substitutions.

Once you’ve done that, go back and quiz yourself again.  There’s a very good chance that you will be able to remember every single item on your list.  Even cooler, you’ll probably still be able to remember your list tomorrow, too.  How often can you say that when you simply jot down a quick list (which you’ll likely forget at home on your way to the store anyway)?

There are all kinds of useful applications for the Method of Loci, from memorizing vocabulary words to summarizing a story’s plot, to helping students remember a particular formula or theorem.  And, it’s not just for classroom info, either.  If you spend a half hour teaching this method in the classroom, you’ve taught your kids a life skill that will benefit them through adulthood.

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About the author

Lorna Doone Brewer is a freelance writer, also known as the Queen Bee. She lives in the beautiful Inland Northwest with three spirited daughters and a wildly outnumbered husband.

View all articles by Lorna Doone Brewer

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