EDU 6526: Concepts, Memorization, Mnemonics

Teaching concepts is central to any instructional setting at any age. How exactly does a student learn? And what is the best way to teach concepts and facts? These are surprisingly complex questions that I’m still trying to figure out answers to. Every student learns differently. Some work well alone and others work well together. Some are good at rote memorization and others need more of a visual link to help them remember things.

For my future upper elementary classroom, I believe in teaching basic concepts or ideas that will help the student learn to learn. According to Joyce, Weil, and Calhoun (2015), “Awareness of how to learn and how to improve learning results in a sense of mastery and control over one’s future.” I feel like elementary school is a critical age for students to learn how best to learn. I like the idea of students analyzing concepts on their own first and coming to their own conclusions and instead of the teacher providing all the answers. If students are only memorizing information, they are not actually learning it or understanding how to transfer the knowledge to other subjects or real life situations. According to Bruner (1966), if children only use the information they memorized in that particular situation, they aren’t very likely to transfer that knowledge to other parts of their lives.

Joyce et al. (2015) explain how to use the concept attainment model in order to teach students how to categorize information or data and form conclusions. For example, I feel it is important that students learn about the natural habitat that surrounds them. Using the concept attainment model, I could provide data on the environment of the Pacific Northwest and the Southwest. Then I could have the students compare and contrast different attributes such as average number of sunny days in a year, average inches of rainfall, number of species, and how many population centers are in the area and how large they are. From there, I would have the students draw their own conclusions about ways we can better maintain a good balance between using and replenishing the Earth’s resources. After the lesson I would have the students think about how they came to those conclusions and if there were other things they might consider besides the data points I gave them.

That isn’t to say that memorization isn’t important to learn as well. Mnemonics can be very helpful when trying to memorize facts. One example I immediately thought about was “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally” to signify the order of mathematical operations in an equation. It of course stands for parenthesis, exponents, multiplication, division, addition, and finally subtraction. Even years after first learning it, I still remember it and use it from time to time. Another good mnemonic example is to remember how many days are in each month by counting the months on your knuckles.

Another example of ways to help children remember facts is to use link words and pictures to help students associate two ideas so that one triggers the other. See the image below as an example.

Substitute link words and graphics to introduce students to names of European countries.

Substitute link words and graphics to introduce students to names of European countries.

Teaching students to apply the memory model themselves is critical to their success on their own (Joyce et al., 2015). Bruner (1996) said, “All one can do for a learner en route to her forming a view of her own is to aid and abet her on her own voyage.” I hope to teach my students these valuable thinking and memory strategies so they will be successful throughout their lives and always learning.


Bruner, Jerome S. The Culture of Education. 1996.

Bruner, Jerome S. Some Elements of Discovery. 1961.

Joyce, B., Weil M., & Calhoun, E. (2015). Models of Teaching. 9th Ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

Mnemonic. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved January 23, 2016, from