Each year, early November recalls familiar words:
The fifth of November,
The gunpowder, treason, and plot;
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!
These folk rhymes were written 200 years after the fateful day in 1605 when Catholic revolutionary Guy Fawkes was arrested while trying to bomb the Houses of Parliament in London, England. This failed attack became a day of celebration for Londoners, and the holiday has had staying power to this day, even as cultural and religious contexts have changed. Guy Fawkes’s legacy has also shifted somewhat, from notorious traitor to symbol of dissent and revolution.
However we choose to remember that fateful fifth of November, it is notable that we do, in fact, remember the non-event year after year. Besides the interesting history, might it have something to do with that catchy rhyme?
Mnemonics are learning techniques that help us remember things. Mnemonics work because they associate new material with something we already know, or an interesting or memorable mental image. Mnemonics may also link new information together in an interesting (see: rhyming!) way. What other historical days or scientific facts do your students have mnemonic tricks for? Here are a few I’ll never forget.
- 7 Levels of Classification: King Philip Can Order Five Greek Salads (Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species).
- The Planets: My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nachos (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune)
- The Great Lakes: HOMES (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior)
- Weather Forecasting! Red sky in morning, sailors take warning/Red sky at night, sailors delight . . . Weather patterns usually move from west to east. Red sky in the morning (in the east, where the sun rises) indicates that the sun is reflecting off rainclouds, meaning the day will likely have rain—difficult weather for sailing. Red sky at night (in the west, where the sun sets) indicates clear, calm weather—perfect weather for sailing.
But these tried and true favorites are not the only ones that work wonders. Invite your students to invent their own mnemonics to learn difficult material. Try one for the electromagnetic spectrum, the countries in Africa, or the earth’s biomes. Then share your favorites with us! Respond in comments or send your ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org!
Nat Geo: 1605: Guy Fawkes Day
Nat Geo: Electromagnetic Spectrum
Nat Geo: Biomes
Nat Geo: Africa Map