non sibi sed toti

Classics Teaching Resources

Remembering by Association

  1. Vocabulary

    Latin teachers are used to telling pupils English derivations to help them learn Latin words. And that's fine and dandy. agricola - agriculture - farmer. That's a 3-link chain of association.

    Where I went wrong in the early days was in discouraging associations other than derivations. If a pupil hears 'balaena' and is reminded of 'balloon', and then imagines a huge balloon the shape of a whale, that's fine, too. balaena - balloon - whale. Experts tell us that the more ridiculous (or even obscene) the association is, the more effectively it works.

  2. Lists

    If pupils need to remember a list of any kind, then the items can be associated with each other in a chain. Suppose they need to remember the first dozen Roman emperors in order: Augustus, Tiberius, Gaius, Claudius, Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian, Titus, Domitian, Nerva.

    Step one is to think up ordinary words, preferably names of objects, that remind them of the Emperors' names. This is best done by the pupils themselves - they know what associations work for them. I might choose: August, the Tiber, guy, claw, knee, gal (girl), oath (not such a good one, because you can't see it), vitals, Vespa (scooter), tit, dome, nerve.

    Step two is to make up a story linking these words in order, something along the lines of: On a hot day in August beside the river Tiber a guy drops his claw onto the knee of a gal who swears an oath and kicks his vital organs, before riding off on a Vespa - well, you can make up the rest.

    If you wanted to add dates of death, say, turn them into words according to the code on the Numbers page and include them in the story. On a hot day in August the tar (14) is melting beside the Tiber which is mucky (37). The guy who is a rat (41) ... and so on.

    You may well protest that this will all take so much effort that pupils might as well just try to memorise the names and dates. To which I reply that the sheer effort of thinking up the mnemonics is an excellent way of fixing the facts in the memory.

    Again, the more ridiculous the links, the more effectively they can be remembered.

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