Need help remembering lists of information for school, work, hobby, or other purposes? Then one or more of the Peg Methods is the memory system you need.
The Peg memory systems are ideal for remembering information that must be recalled in a particular order. Like all memory systems, the Peg systems improve your memory by creating a filing cabinet in your mind.
They work by associating information you already know well (the numbers 1 through 20, and the letters A through Z) with the new facts you want to remember.
A "peg" is just a mental hook on which you hang the information. This hook acts as a reminder to help you mentally retrieve information.
Let's look at the number from 1 to 10 first. If you could associate a piece of information with the number "5", then simply thinking of "5" would give you back that fact.
In other words, because you will never forget how to count from 1 to 10, associating information with those numbers creates a mental filing system for the information.
In fact, you can even use peg system to memorize lists that don't need to be in a particular order. For a fun example, check out how I memorized Darth Vader quotes for Halloween.
Before I explain how to use the pegs, let me point out a few important things about them:
Spacing out the use of the lists and commbining the use of pegs with the other memory systems (see below) lets you use pegs to memorize a very large body of information.
You will never forget how to count from 1 to 20 or how to say your ABC's. But the problem with mentally attaching the information you want to remember to numbers or letters is that numbers and letters are abstract (hard to visualize).
The Peg systems solve this problem by making abstract numbers and letters concrete.
For example, with the rhyming Peg words, you first remember a concrete object whose name rhymes with the number (you will see this is very easy to do). For instance: one-sun, two-shoe, three-tree.
Then, to memorize a list, you visually associate each item of information with the number image (e.g., sun, shoe, tree). To recall the list, you simply run through the numbers in your mind.
Each of the main Peg systems are explained below. Click a link in the following list to jump down to the explanation for that Peg system.
The Number-Rhyme Peg system is perhaps the easiest peg memory system to learn. For each of the numbers from 1 to 10 (and even up to 20, really), you associate with each number a word that rhymes with that number. Most people find this very easy to do.
Here is a widely used version of the number-rhyme list. Go ahead and memorize these right now. Repeat the number rhymes until you remember them, then practice without looking.
One - Sun
Two - Shoe
Three - Tree
Four - Door
Five - Hive
Six - Sticks
Seven - Heaven
Eight - Gate
Nine - Vine
Ten - Hen
Now really tap into your visual memory, and make each of these listed items very clear in your mind. For example, what kind of sun? Picture it vividly. What type of shoe? A man's dress shoe, for instance?
Go through each of the ten items in this way until each is very clearly pictured in your mind. Making the mental images clear and detailed will greatly improve your recall of information later.
Using the Number-Rhyme Pegs. The simplest use of the Number-Rhyme Pegs is to memorize a straight list of ten objects. However, this system can be used to memorize much more, including lists of sayings, concepts, technical terms, definitions, vocabulary, steps in a procedure, and so on.
Here's a simple example to show you how this works.
Suppose one day you are visiting your grandmother and she decides to tell you her secret recipe for baking a delicious blueberry pie. The problem is, you don't have a pen or paper with you, so if you want to remember the ingredients you will have to rely on your memory.
She tells you that the ingredients for the pie are blueberries, lemon juice, flour, sugar, cinnamon, butter, eggs, milk (a total of eight items). You decide to use the Number-Rhyme Peg Method to remember these until you have time to write them down later.
Keep in mind that creating the following associations happens very quickly once you have practiced this memory system a few times.
1. Begin by associating the first ingredient (blueberries) with the first rhyming peg word (sun). For example, picture clearly in your mind a giant, hot sun shining down on a bright blue bear.
Now move on to each of the rest of the ingredients and do the same thing.
... 2. Associate the second ingredient (lemon juice) with the second rhyming peg word (shoe). For example, imagine a yellow dress shoe full of lemons, and you squishing your foot into the lemons to get the shoe on, turning the lemons into lemon juice.
... 3. Associate the third ingredient (flour) with the third rhyming word (tree). For example, imagine a brightly colored tree whose trunk and leaves are becoming completely covered and overgrown with your favorite type of flower.
... 4. Associate the fourth ingredient (sugar) with the fourth rhyming word (door). For example, imagine a solid brown wooden door slamming shut on a white porcelain sugar bowl, splashing the granulated sugar all over your nice clean carpet.
... 5. Associate the fifth ingredient (cinnamon) with the fifth rhyming word (hive). For example, imagine a swarm of bees stinging your male friend who is sinning - sin a man. (If you think gambling is a sin, for instance, imagine him rolling dice or playing cards.)
Now you try. Think of associations for the rest of the ingredients, sticks-butter, heaven-eggs, and gate-milk.
Once you have your list of associations, then review them quickly after 1 minute, 5 minutes, and 20 minutes. This will really help lock the images and the list of items in your mind.
For long-term mental storage, review the list again after 2 hours, then once a day for the next 3 days. Then once a month after that, depending on how well it seems your mind is retaining the information (which varies a little from person to person).
If you really worked through this example, you be a bit amazed at how well you can recall this list of eight items. Try this now: ask yourself, what is item #7? What is item #2? What is item #5?
You should be able to instantly remember and say the ingredient. Try doing that quickly with rote memorization alone!
Again, memory management is a skill, and the more your practice the memory systems the easier they will seem and the better results you will get with your memory.
Rhymes from 11 to 20. The following are two rhyming words for each of the numbers 11 through 20. These are used the same way as the rhyming pegs from 1 through 10:
|11. Leaven, Football 11||16. Sistine, Licking|
|12. Shelf, Elf||17. Leavening, Deafening|
|13. Thirsting, Hurting||18. Aiding, Waiting|
|14. Fording, Courting||19. Knighting, Pining|
|15. Fitting, Lifting||20. Plenty, Penny|
Alternately, you can mix Number-Rhyme with Number-Shape (see below) fo r11 to 20. For instance, you could use the rhyming pegwords for 1 through 10 and use the single-digit shape pegwords for 11 to 20. In othe words, 11-Pencil, 12-Swan, 13-Pitchfork, and so on (ignoring the "1" in the tens place).
The Number-Shape peg system is similar to the Number-Rhyme system, but instead of using words that rhyme with the numbers, you use the shape of the number as the peg.
The following shows shape equivalents for the numbers 1 through 10. You can make up your own, but try these first to get used to the concept.
Top of Love Heart
Balloon on Stick
Fork and Plate
So to associate an item of information with a number-shape, associate the shape with the information. For example, to associate a word such as "tomato" to position number two in the list, associate swan with tomato.
Imagine perhaps a swan bouncing a bright red tomato up and down on its beak. Then, when you think of "two", it reminds you of "swan" which reminds you of tomato.
Like with the other systems, the complexity of the information that can be associated with a number can be much greater than simply a tomato of other physical objecet. Using substitute words, for instance, even abstract concepts can be associated with the items in a list.
The Alphabet peg system is a bit different from the Number-Rhyme and Number-Shape pegs but equally as easy to learn. As explained above, you already know the alphabet, so with a little modification you can use it as yet another type of mental filing system.
There are two ways to use Alphabet pegs: 1) based on concrete meaning, and 2) based on sound alikes.
As with the rhyming pegs, you can use these same lists over and over. With sufficient review, your peg image associations will fade but the information will remain in memory.
Concrete Alphas. Concrete words can also be used for alphabet pegs. The following is a list of pegs you could use.
In other words, to memorize a list of up to 26 items using sound-alikes, you would create a mental image of "hay" interacting with the first item, a "bee" stinging the second item, and so on. The concrete alphas work similarly.
Again, as with all memory systems, the Alphabet peg system is a skill, just like riding a bicycle. The first time you rode a bike you probably fell off, and that is normal. Now riding a bike is second nature and you don't even have to think about it.
The same is true here - practice using the pegs, and they too will become second nature, another feature of your exceptional memory!
References for the Peg Memory Technique:
After many years of neglect by the scientific community, a great deal of research on mnemonic techniques was performed starting in the 1970's. Chapter 11 of the classic text Your Memory and How to Improve It, by Dr. Ken Higbee, refers to a number of these studies investigating the efficacy of the peg memory system, including:
1. Studies on effectiveness of pegwords - F.S. Bellezza and G.H. Bower, "Remembering Script-Based Text," Poetics 11 (1982); 1-23.
2. Categories interfere with pegwords - B.G. Reddy and F.S. Bellezza, "Interference Between Mnemonic and Categorical Oganization in Memory," Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society 24 (1986): 169-71.
3. J.L. Elliot and J.R. Gentile, "The Efficacy of a Mnemonic Technique for Learning Disabled and Nondisabled Adolescents, " Journal of Learning Disabilities 19 (1986); 237-41.
4. J.R. Levin, C.B. McCornmick, and B.J. Dretzke, "A Combined Pictorial Mnemonic Strategy for Ordered Information," Educational Communication and Technology Journal 29 (1981); 219-25.
5. M. Rogers, D. Dinnel, and J.A. Glover, "Oral Directions; Remembering What to Do When" (paper presented at the meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Francisco, April 1986).
6. Amnesiac patients - C.D. Evans, "Rehabilitation of the Head Injured (London: Churchill Livingstone, 1981), 72-73.
7. K.L. Higbee, "Can Young Children Use Mnemonics?", Psychological Reports 38 (1976):18.
Here are a couple other instances of research on the peg mnemonic technique:
1. Russell N. Carney Joel R. Levin "Delayed mnemonic benefits for a combined pegword–keyword strategy, time after time, rhyme after rhyme." Applied Cognitive Psychology. 23 March 2011 https://doi.org/10.1002/acp.1663
2. Veit, D. T., Scruggs, T. E., & Mastropieri, M. A. (1986). "Extended mnemonic instruction with learning disabled students." Journal of Educational Psychology, 78(4), 300-308. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0022-0622.214.171.1240
Divided 64 learning disabled (LD) 6th-, 7th-, and 8th-grade students into 24 instructional groups that were assigned at random to mnemonic and control conditions. Instructional groups were administered 3 daily lessons on dinosaurs in counterbalanced order. The lessons involved vocabulary on dinosaurs, attributes of dinosaurs, and reasons for dinosaur extinction. Mnemonic groups were taught the information using keyword and pegword techniques. Control instructional groups were taught the same information using the principles of direct instruction, including teacher-directed questioning, choral group responding, fast instructional pacing, and cumulative review. A test was given after each lesson on that lesson's content. On the 4th day, all Ss were given production and identification tests on the content of all 3 lessons. Results indicate that mnemonic groups outperformed control groups on the immediate and delayed tests. In addition, control Ss' responses revealed significantly more intralist intrusions than did those of mnemonic Ss. No meaningful trend across days of instruction was observed for either condition. Findings suggest that mnemonic instruction is a versatile and effective instructional technique for LD students.
Last Updated: 06/11/2020
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