"Enhance Your Memory Skills…Create A Story"

   One of my earliest and fondest memories from my childhood is my mother telling me original stories during my pre-school days in an attempt to get me to go to sleep. She was hoping that I would fall asleep so that she could nap before my brothers got home from school.

   My mother’s stories of ponies and good little girls and boys entertained me long enough to lie still causing my mother to drop off to sleep. The visual pictures created in my memory are still visually acute to this day, many years later. Even though I then slipped off the bed to play and did not meet my mother’s objective with her storytelling, the experience and the memory of those stories has greatly affected my course in life and directed me toward the research of memory enhancement techniques for my classroom students.

   I have often asked the teachers to whom I am presenting teacher training to give me their opinion as to what the major problem is for the students as a whole. Poor listening skills and the inability to focus were the two most consistent answers. When specifically addressed to math teachers, poor memorization of math facts was added to the list.

   The fact that memories of my mother’s stories are still visually imprinted on my brain after so many years, led me to look for explanations.

   I turned to the memory gurus: Tony Buzan, Harry Lorayne, Sheila Ostrander, Douglas Herrmann and Lynn Schroeder. After reading dozens of books on memory I discovered that a marriage between two ancient concepts address all the problems presented to me.

   Storytelling is the art and science of language. Mnemonics is the art and science of memory. Common characteristics make the answer to the memory problems seem to be so simple.

   Stories are organized information. "Research shows that organized information can be learned four times faster than information that is presented randomly."(Hermann)

   Storytelling engages visual interpretations of the warp and woof of the language. How well colored and tightly or loosely woven the weave appears is of course determined by the storyteller, the weaver.

   Discovering that the four basic mnemonic hooks included the keyword, chain (a.k.a. stories), loci and acronyms/acrostics, I began weaving math stories to help my students learn math facts while eliminating boring rote drill.

   Beginning with what is considered the most difficult math facts, the nines in multiplication, I used a common location (loci) for the setting of the 9’s, with different settings for the 8’s. 7’s and so forth. The interaction of the numbers, which had been converted to interesting characters, made up the chain, with the keyword representing the product of the multiplication problem.

   The story of 9 x 9 = 81: Fine Nine was going to the beach for his vacation. His twin brother decided to give him a party to help send him on his way. Balloons and decorations were hung. Friends were invited. Many different kinds of food were served at the party. Since Fine Nine and his twin brother were gentlemen, they "Ate One" (81) of every kind of food, even the food that they did not like. (Copyrighted Mac)

   The mnemonic art can address any content area of study. The word conflagration (one of the 250 most common SAT words), which means an immense fire, is easily woven into a mnemonics story.

   Two convicts who escaped from prison, decided to split up to avoid capture by the law officers in pursuit of them.

   "Where should we meet?" asked the second convict to the first.

   "We will meet up on top of one of those mountains in the distance behind the prison," pointed the first convict.

   "How will I be able to spot you?" questioned the first.

   "I will make a flag out of my red bandana. Look for me waving it and we will then escape together."

   When the first convict got to the top of the hill, he quickly found a long stick, tied his bandana to it and started to wave it in the direction from which his comrade should come. And unexpected problem arose. A large, low, and gray cloud floated over the mountain top and covered up the convict and his flag. Worried that they would not be able to meet up, the first convict took a risk. He believed that light could penetrate the cloud and proceeded to build a fire. Once the fire was built and burning, the convict realized that size was all that matter and threw more wood on the fire to build it up. The wind took over and the fire grew and grew until the commotion drew the attention of his friend. Sadly enough it also drew the attention of the law and the convicts were quickly arrested and not only charged with attempting to escape but also with building a large destructive fire.

   CON (short for convicts) had a FLAG (red flag) that was covered by a GRA (gray cloud) so the fire he built caused a (commoTION) which together means immense fire. (Copyrighted Mac)

   When trying to connect or weave a number of predetermined facts into an interesting story, the storyteller’s art becomes more challenging. Here are a number of facts or keywords about the state of Minnesota woven into a story through the process of mnemonics. The facts are highlighted in bold text.

   I have the nicest uncle named Paul. He is so nice we think of him as a saint. St. Paul (St. Paul/capital) as I call him, loves to buy me tiny drinks called mini sodas. (Minnesota). His favorite place to buy these mini sodas is at the hockey game. (U. S. Hockey Hall of Fame). One day St. Paul asks me to go on a hunting trip to find some gophers (Gopher State). I had a problem. I talked too much. But my uncle was prepared. When we got close to an eagle "(Eagle Mountain/tallest state mountain), Uncle Paul put a piece of cellophane tape over my mouth. He didn’t want me to scare the eagle. We saw no gophers! We walked on. We came upon two monstrosities, Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox (legendary figures). St. Paul put another piece of tape over my mouth. He didn’t want them to step on us. Still no gophers! Next we tiptoed through Indian country from which red peace pipes were made. (Pipestone National Monument). My uncle was scared of Indians. I got another piece of tape on my mouth!!!! And no gophers!!!! I had so many pieces of tape over of my mouth that we could not get them off. St. Paul took me to a clinic. They did not give me a shot or medicine…all they did was smear slimy, mayonnaise all over my face. (Mayo Clinic). The tape came tight off. As we walked out of the clinic we spotted a gopher on a ship in the port. It was on "the loose." (Duluth-furtherest inland port). "I have a task for ya’," ( Lake Itasca, origin of Mississippi River) said my uncle. "Take this gopher who evidently wants a boat ride and float down the Mississippi River. Of course you need to take plenty of mini sodas!!!" (Copyrighted Mac)

   The creative processes of storytelling and mnemonics were not only embraced with high interest by my students of various abilities and learning styles, I noticed a distinct improvement in all the academic skills at all levels. Some of my students were completing two years or more of math in one year! The reading levels of many students were jumping one to six years above the norm!!!!!!

   Tony Buzan explains my observations in his book, Use Your Memory. "If you apply the Mnemonic Principles and Techniques appropriately, not only will your memory improve………but your creativity will soar, and with the twin improvements in memory and creativity, your overall mental functioning and assimilation of knowledge will accelerate at the same fantastic pace."

   There are many reasons for telling a story. Create one to enhance your memory skills!!!!

Ms. Mac is the author of various books and articles on memory and learning. She established her own school, Horizons Academy is in San Angelo, Texas, to conduct research on accelerated learning.  She weaves new stories for her students daily.

For Further Information:

  • Buzan, Tony. Use Your Memory. Great Britain: BBC Books, 1997.
  • Healy, Ph. D. Jane M. Endangered Minds: Why Our Children Don’t Think. New York: Simon And Schuster, 1990.
  • Hermann, Ph. D. Douglas J. Super Memory: A Quick-Action Program For Memory Improvement. Pennsylvania: Rodale Press, 1991.
  • Jenson, Eric. Teaching With The Brain In Mind. Alexandria: Association For Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1998.
  • Schank, Roger C. Tell Me A Story. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1990.
  • Wonder, Jacquelyn. Whole Brain Thinking. New York: Ballantine Books, 1984.


  • Hands On Geography IF 8547. Instructional Fair, Inc. Grand Rapids, Michigan 1-800-253-5469.
  • Read To Remember Math Facts. Mac Math, Inc., San Angelo, Texas. 1-888-MAC-MATH.
  • What’s The Word? A Product of Vocabulary Enterprises, L.C. 1-888-44-LEARN. www.easylearn.com.