Have you ever turned on the radio and found yourself singing along to a song from your childhood, remembering lyrics you were sure you’d forgotten years ago?
Turns out this is no coincidence: learning techniques that help retain and retrieve information in your memory are called mnemonic devices and ones paired with music can be extremely effective. Science tells us that using the musical building blocks of rhythm, rhyme, articulation, melody, and symbolism allows us to store things we hear in our brain’s hippocampus and frontal cortex – the main areas of our brain associated with memory. From that point on, whenever and wherever we come across these particular words, sounds, or even mental images again, they start a chain reaction and unlock the information we’ve already stored in our minds.
Of course that sounds like a lot but to break it down simply, it means things are easier to remember when set to music! And since there’s no place like the classroom for a memory boost, here’s a list of five activities and suggestions on how you can incorporate musical mnemonic devices into your classroom and lesson planning, regardless of the academic subject.
Have your pupils ever struggled with an arithmetic equation or rule?
Next time you encounter a particularly difficult problem, try creating a simple melody and rhyme around it – this can be an original tune, or you can borrow one from a song your pupils already know. After singing it through a few times, you’ll quickly notice that your students’ ability to remember the rule increases with each repetition!
Do you have historical events your pupils need to remember where every little detail counts? Choose a popular song and challenge your pupils to re-write the lyrics around their topics. Spending time creating lyrics using these important facts and dates will help your pupils during the developmental phase, as well as in the repetition phase once the song is completed!
Hot tip: Turn this activity into a group project presentation for your classroom, having each group teach their new songs to their classmates.
Since 1959, many classrooms have taken advantage of musician Tom Lehrer’s periodic table rewrite of a famous Gilbert and Sullivan tune. Lehrer used the catchy melody upbeat tempo of “The Major General Song” from Pirates of Penzance to document the names of every chemical element known at the time, all the way up to Nobelium at Number 102!
Introducing the periodic table of chemical elements to your science classroom like this is an instant way to incorporate a fun mnemonic device and an easy way to issue a learning challenge for your pupils. Encourage them to follow this link to learn the names of all the elements in the song – bonus points to those who can continue the melody while adding some more recently named elements!
We know from childhood favorites like Mary Poppins or Alphablocks that music can not only be used to remember specific words, but also how to learn the spellings of those words themselves!
The next time your pupils are struggling with a particularly tricky word, try singsonging the letters to the tune of a popular song. The more outrageous and amusing your song choice the better, as this means the activity is more likely to make an impression long after your classroom has moved on to new words. Through the use of musical mnemonics, English and spelling tests can become enjoyable and highly anticipated subjects for your pupils!
This is a tip that many teachers already use regularly in their daily planning, so if you haven’t tried it, now is the time! Quietly playing calming music in the background of your more silent classroom activities can help focus children on the task at hand. Repeated use of this kind of sound will reinforce the more serious atmosphere surrounding these activities while reinforcing the level of composure they are expected to maintain during the exercise.
Hot Tip: Piano music and meditation tracks are great places to start looking for the most appropriate kinds of calming soundtracks for your pupils.
There are plenty of ways to incorporate musical mnemonic devices into every corner of your classroom, so pick a few for your pupils this week. Let us know how you’ve tried using music in your academic classes to aid your lesson planning and classroom focus. We would love to hear your experiences!