Using Mnemonics to Teach Academic Skills

What is the evidence base? A strong level of evidence based on a high quality meta-analysis of 20 intervention studies including 15 multiple-group designs and 5 single subject designs.

With whom was it implemented?

  • A total of 669 participants were included
  • Students with
    • learning disabilities (19 studies)
    • emotional/behavioral disorders (1 study)
    • mental retardation (3 studies)
  • Ages ranged from 13 – 17 years old (16 studies), average age of 14
  • Grade level range reported 6-12th grade (4 studies)
  • 16 studies included samples that were predominately male, while 1 study had samples that were predominately female, and 2 studies did not report gender percentages
  • Ethnicity/race information were not reported for all participants

What is the practice and where is the best place to find out how to do this practice: Mnemonics can include strategies such as:

  • Memory-associative techniques - using known information to facilitate learning of new information (20 studies)
  • Keyword mnemonic strategies - combining visual and auditory cues to provide direct links to responses (10 studies; McLoone, et al., 1986)
  • Keyword-pegword - numbering or ordering in combination with rhyming (5 studies; Mastropieri, Scruggs, Levin, et al., 1985)
  • Reconstructive elaborations - using keywords that provide acoustic reconstructions of unfamiliar information such as symbolic pictures of abstract concepts or descriptive pictures of concrete information (3 studies; Scruggs & Mastropieri, 1989)

For Mnemonic Research to Practice Lesson Plan Starters, see:

Where has it been implemented?

  • Special education classrooms (resource and self-contained)
  • Regular education classrooms (history and science classes)
  • Small rooms available within schools

References used to establish this evidence base:
Wolgemuth, J. R., Cobb, R. B., & Alwell, M. (2008). The effects of mnemonic interventions on academic outcomes for youth with disabilities: A systematic review. Learning Disabilities Research, 23(1), 1-10.

Additional References:

Brigham, F. J., Scruggs, T. E., & Mastropieri, M. A. (1995). Elaborative maps for enhancing learning of historical information: Uniting spatial, verbal, and imaginal information. Journal of Special Education, 28, 440-460.

King-Sears, M. E., Mercer, C. D., & Sindelar, P. T. (1992). Toward independence with keyword mnemonics: A strategy for science vocabulary instruction. Remedial and Special Education, 13, 22-33.

Laufenberg, R., & Scruggs, T. E. (1986). Effects of a transformational mnemonic strategy to facilitate digit span recall by mildly handicapped students. Psychological Reports, 58, 811-820.

Mastropieri, M. A., & Scruggs, T. E. (1988). Increasing content area learning of learning disabled students: Research implementation. Learning Disabilities Research, 4, 17-25.

Mastropieri, M. A., Scruggs, T. E., Bakken, J. P., & Brigham, F. J. (1992). A complex mnemonic strategy for teaching states and their capitals: Comparing forward and backward associations. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 7, 96-103.

Mastropieri, M. A., & Scruggs, T. E., & Fulk, B. J. M. (1990). Teaching abstract vocabulary with the keyword method: Effects on recall and comprehension. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 18, 94-100.

Mastropieri, M. A., Scruggs, T. E., & Levin, J. R. (1985). Mnemonic strategy instruction with learning disabled adolescents. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 18, 94-100.

Mastropieri, M. A., Scruggs, T. E., & Levin, J. R. (1986). Direct vs. mnemonic instruction: Relative benefits for exceptional learners. The Journal of Special Education, 20, 299-308.

Mastropieri, M. A., Scruggs, T. E., & Levin, J. R. (1987). Learning disabled students' memory for expository prose: Mnemonic versus nonmnemonic pictures. American Educational Research Journal, 24, 505-519. 

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