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365 learning hacks


How to Memorize Numbers, Part Two

It isn’t only students who are baffled by numbers. In everyday life, we must memorize our social security number and perhaps that of a spouse and children. We have telephone numbers, account numbers, and access numbers. Numbers are parts of dates and appointments include not only the date, but the time.
The easiest way to cope with numbers is to make them more memorable. Concrete words and images can be associated with the senses.
You could make up your own list of numbers and their concrete associations. Or I will use this one from Kevin Trudeau’s book on “Mega Memory.”

One is a tree. Imagine a Christmas tree. Usually we have just one Christmas tree per year.
Two is dancers.
Three is a the Three Stooges
Four is a car with four wheels.
Five is a glove with five fingers.
Six is a gun as in six gun.
Seven is dice. Isn’t seven considered a lucky number?
Eight is a skate. Hear the rhyme.
Nine is a cat with nine lives.
Ten is a bowling pin.
Eleven is an ocean. Think of the movie Oceans Eleven.
Twelve is a carton of eggs.
Thirteen is a witch, associated with the number thirteen.
Fourteen is a ring that might be 14 carat gold or been given on February 14, Valentines Day.
Fifteen is a paycheck. Some of us get paid on the 15th of the month.
Sixteen is candy for sweet sixteen.
Seventeen is a teenage magazine.
Eighteen is a voting booth. We can vote when we are eighteen.
Nineteen is a gold club. The 19th hole is the watering whole.
Twenty is pack of cigarettes which contains twenty smokes.

That is a list based on Mr. Trudeau’s numbers list. I made a few changes and you should feel free to make changes too. Here are some more numbers with my associations.

Twenty-one is a wine glass. Now you can legally drink.
Twenty-two is a rifle. 22 calibre.
Twenty-three is a Bible. Think of the 23rd psalm.
Twenty-Four is Kiefer Sutherland who stars in a popular television series, “24”.
Twenty-five is Buck Rogers from the 25th Century.
Twenty-Six is a Texas Ranger. Twenty-six men in a ranger unit.
Twenty-Seven is dresses. Think of the movie “27 Dresses.”
Twenty-eight is a television set. I grew up with a 28 inch screen in the living room.
Twenty nine is an airplane. The B-29 is the airplane that won World War II.
Thirty is a hippie who does not truest anyone over 30.
Thirty-one is an ice cream cone.

Wow that is a lot of numbers, but note how easy they will be to memorize if we use the associations. Take a few minutes to do so.

\To memorize a long number, use the associations for an easier way to memorize them. Divide the number up in any way..

Pi 3.14 can become: an ice cram cone (31) driving a car (4).
Or it can become the Three Stooges (3) climbing a tree (1) and and then falling out and into the back seat of a car (4 ).
Or it can be the Three Stooges (3) giving each other rings (14) and marrying each other. Silly. Sure it is silly, but it is easier and more fun to memorize silly things.

Pi to the tenth is:

See what silly stories using the associations you can come up with. I will give you my suggestions in the next column

Getting It; How To Access Difficult Readings

Memorizing is a great skill for new information, but what if the information is uninteresting and hard to follow? What do you do?
I never could concentrate on the “Illiad” or the “Odyssey.” In high school I just didn’t have the self discipline to read them. In college, I read both, but my mind kept straying. I could not stay with the story.
Sure there have been movies, but they didn’t interest me either. Here are some strategies for understanding difficult or seemingly uninteresting material.
I could have gone to a study guide. I would still have to read the stories because even the best study guides sometimes have theories or off information. Many students think reading the study guide is enough. It isn’t.
One semester I was teaching, “Hamlet”. We were discussing Ophelia’s suicide. One student said Ophelia was pregnant. That was an interesting take on the story, but inaccurate. Yet other students agreed. What was happening?
I asked a student where in the text it said Ophelia was pregnant. She rushed up with a copy of “Cliff Notes,” which usually makes very good study guides to important literature. One paragraph suggested that a pregnancy might explain Ophelia’s odd behavior.
Ophelia wasn’t pregnant. In fact her dad thought she was a virgin. Ophelia was a romantic, but Hamlet didn’t have much interest in her, and according to her dad he never would. The study guide was wrong.
So use study guides as a tool, but read the story, so you know when the guide is target. There are hundreds of study guides online, so these are not difficult to obtain.
One advantage of famous plays like “Hamlet” is that we can view taped or even live performances. Sometimes when we watch a very good actor read the lines, they make more sense than just the text on a page.
Some novels have been made into great movies. When I assigned “Lesson Before Dying” by Ernest Gaines, I showed students the HBO movie starring Don Cheadle and Micah Phifer. But beware, not all films are that good.
“Hart’s War” is a great novel. The movie changes the plot and would be of no use to a student.
Talking books are wonderful tools for understanding novels and those non fiction pieces that have been recorded. has thousands of free recorded titles. The readers are volunteers, but the quality is generally very good. One can put on a pair of ear phones and read assigned text while doing housework, running or driving.
A problem with recorded text is that often it is difficult to take notes.
I sometimes make movies in my mind when I am reading books. I imagine the scenes as they would be presented. I cast the movie with actors I know from film and television. It is fun and making the story into a movie does make it more understandable. How would Martin Sheen or Johnny Depp read that line?
Another method is to follow the arc of one character at a time. This is easy with a play that has dialog tags. When following a character arc in a novel skim looking for the character’s name and scenes.
Read the chapters out of sequence. Start with the last chapter and read the chapters in reverse order. Skip every chapter. When I do this I usually have to go back and reread everything in order, but I have a better understanding of the story.
Some subjects like math require learning to be in a certain order. In those cases, I look for not only study guides, but for explanations online. Youtube is an overlooked resource.
Some short stories are read on youtube. Others are acted out. In teaching, “Sonny’s Blues,” I found scenes from the story on youtube. While the entire story was not there, these scenes helped students and increased their interest.
When I was teaching grammar, I found youtube very useful. I found a site on youtube where the apostrophe sang and danced. The students loved that. It saved what was bound to be a boring lecture. For home study, youtube singing punctuation marks can break the boredom.
Annotating books is the best technique in studying most courses. When I was in college, I would pre read all my textbooks and mark them up with different colored highlighters. That way during the semester when I was very busy working and studying, I could just read the highlighted main points and support. It made the study and the understanding go faster.
Don’t feel bad if you don’t like or just don’t get a famous story or poem. We all have different tastes in movies and television programs. It is only natural that we have different taste in all forms of fiction. When the story is about a distant place or time frame, it helps to go to an encyclopedia or other reference book, but don’t beat yourself up if you still don’t like the story.

How to Memorize Long Numbers, Part One

Pi is a seemingly meaningless string of numbers., and yet it is an important number in mathematics. Pi to the tenth is 3.1415926535 How long will it take you to memorize Pi? I can teach you how to remember Pi to the tenth, above in less than a minute. How?

Simple. Just remember this sentence. May I have a large container of coffee, cream and sugar.

Now that is easy to memorize. But what does it have to do with Pi?

Look at the number of letters in each word. May (3) I (1) have (4) a (1) container (9) of (2).

I think you get the idea. Each word in the sentence has the same number of letters of the next number in Pi.

Just repeat the sentence, count the letters and you know Pi to the tenth.

When you are learning something new, it will often seem difficult. But find a way to simplify and you can learn it faster.

How to Ace Multiple Choice Quiz Questions – Look for a long answer in the middle.

You are taking a multiple choice quiz, and a question comes up you aren’t sure of the answer.

Look in the middle. Teachers most often put the correct answer in the middle and the most popular correct answer on multiple choice quizzes is “C.” Also look for the longest and most complete answer.

Here is an example:

Question. What is the origin of the word “Tuxedo”?

a. a song, “Tuxedo Junction.”

b. the tuxedo fish found in the southern Atlantic Ocean.

c. Tuxedo Park, a town in New York where the garment was first worn at the Tuxedo Club by Griswald Lorillard.

d. named after dressmaker Mary Tuxedo.

Clearly the best answer is C.

What is Chaining

Chaining is telling a silly story and including items to memorize in the story. It works because people tend to remember stories better than lists. They also remember the silly, the out-of-place. And the exaggerated.

Say you want to memorize a list of U.S. Presidents in order.

You are washing a ton of clothes, by George, you are washing a ton of clothes. (See yourself washing a ton of clothes. And saying “by, George.” (The first president was George Washington).

The doorbell rings. You answer it and see Gomez Addams standing there. He asks to use your John.

(The second president was John Adams. Careful with the spelling. He wasn’t a member of the Addams Family.”

Gomez says you need to go to Jefferson Cleaners and talk to Jefferson’s nephew Tom who is a cat. (Thomas Jefferson was the third president.)

Where is Jefferson Cleaners. It is on Madison Avenue. Picture some cast members from the “Mad Men” television show. Picture people selling Jams on Madison Avenue. (James Madison was the fourth president.)

One of those people selling jams is Marilyn Monroe. Get a good picture of her. What is she wearing? What kind of Jam is she selling? (James Madison was our fifth president.)

Repeat the story.

Get a list of the presidents in order from an earlier blog. Continue the story. John Quincy Adams is next. Who needs to use the John? Are there twin cities (Quincy) and another member of the Addams family. Again watch the spelling.

You will find that chaining, using a silly story that you made up complete with exaggerations and odd images will be a fun way to remember things. Chaining will require some repetition, but not as much repetition as you would use if you were just repeating the list.

How to Find Time

I’m walking the dog, but I am memorizing Emily Dickinson’s poem, “A Bird Came Down the Walk.” I am doing the dishes, but I am reviewing a list of U.S. Presidents and state capitals. I am folding laundry and I am learning the healing techniques of American Indians.

There are dozens of mindless tasks we perform everyday. Often we use that time daydreaming Our minds have to go somewhere as we mop the floor, pull weeds from the garden or jog. Why not use the time to learn more. If your hands are free, learn American Sign Language. If you have a tape recorder, learn some new words from English or a foreign language. Review and test yourself on what you have recently learned.

Finding Time


How to Use Extended Fun Alphabets

In my last blog, I showed readers how to create a fun alphabet and how to use it to memorize the names of the first 26 presidents of the United States. But there were only 26 items in my fun alphabet and 44 presidents. If I want to memorize the state capitals, there are 50 of them.

The alphabet having just 26 letters seems to limit what I can use it to memorize new lists. Not really.
First I can reuse the items in my fun alphabet. I already memorized all the presidents up to number 26, Theodore Roosevelt. The next eighteen presidents were:
27. William Howard Taft
28. Woodrow Wilson
29. Warren G. Harding
30. Calvin Coolidge
31. Herbert Hoover
32. Franklin Delano Roosevelt
33. Harry Truman
34. Dwight David Eisenhower
35. John F. Kennedy
36. Lyndon Baines Johnson
37. Richard Nixon
38. Gerald Ford
39. Jimmy Carter
40. Ronald Reagan
41. George Herbert Walker Bush
42. Bill Clinton
43. George W. Bush
44. Barack Obama

To memorize these names, I could start all over again with A in the celebrity alphabet, Christine Aguilera. Perhaps she is writing a will, saying “How” like a fictional Indian and pulling taffy. Silly. Yes, it is, but the sillier the better. We tend to remember best the ridiculous. Get a clear image in your mind of Aguilera doing these things. If you remember that Taft was our heaviest president, you might picture Christine Aguilera giving a fat man a massage as she writes the will on his back, says “How” and pulls taffy.

So each letter can be reused. For Woodrow Wilson see wooden Justin Biebers standing in a row and each Justin has a wooden apple on his head like William Tell’s son. (Will’s son.)

So items on a fun alphabet can be reused.

You can also have more than one item for each letter. Make your fun alphabet as long as you want. I grew up in the 1950s and had a large record collection that I arranged in alphabetical order according to the singer’s name. As the years went by, I kept my old records, but added new artists. Here is my fun alphabet using singers from over the years in my collection. Note I can make this alphabet as long as I want. I can add new singers at any time.
1. Paul Anka
2. Frankie Avalon
3. Beatles
4. Pat Boone
5. Anita Bryant
6. Chubby Checker
7. Jimmy Clanton
8. Bobby Darin
9. James Darren
10. Dion
11. Duane Eddy
12. Everly Brothers
13. Fabian
14. Connie Francis
15. Annette Funicello
16. Leslie Gore
17. Lorne Greene
18. Don Ho
19. Mary Hopkins
20. Johnny Horton
21. Burl Ives
22. Stonewall Jackson
23. Kingston Trio
24. Kris Kristofferson
25. Brenda Lee
26. Dickey Lee
27. Lennon Sisters
28. Johnny Maestro
29. Johnny Mathis
30. Don McLean
31. Monkees
32. Jim Nabors
33. Rick Nelson
34. Wayne Newton
35. Roy Orbison
36. Osmond Brothers
37. Dolly Parton
38. Partridge Family
39. Elvis Presley
40. Qua Sara Sara
41. Marty Robbins
42. Bobby Rydell
43. Neil Sedaka
44. Statler Brothers
45. Johnny Tillotson
46. Leslie Uggans
47. Bobby Vee
48. Bobby Vinton
49. Roger Whitaker
50. Andy Williams
51. Don Williams
52. Xena
53. Kathy Young
54. Zorro
Note that some letters have more items attached. Note that for tough letters I can always use a standby if stuck. Q might be Quebec, Quincy M.D. Or any other designation. I chose the song, “Qua Sara Sara” because it fits with singers. X can be X-Ray, X Men, X box or my selection of Xena. I usually use Zorro for Z no matter what type of fun alphabet I am using. Other suggestions might be Zoup, Zipper or Zoey. If you have memorized or use the NATO phonetic alphabet, you can use it as a fun alphabet or use the designations (Quebec, X Ray, and Zulu) for those difficult letters in all other fun alphabets.

Now make your own extended fun alphabet from sports stars, singers, TV shows or anything else. Make it as long as you wish. You can have a hundred or more items. Memorize your list by attaching one item to another. I only have to imagine my record collection, but I could also see Paul Anka singing a Frankie Avalon song. Frankie Avalon singing with the Beatles. The Beatles writing “Love Letters in the Sand”, a Pat Boone hit. Or the Beatles wearing Boone’s trademark white tennis shoes. After you memorize your fun alphabet you can use it over and over in fun ways to memorize the names of presidents, kings, Supreme Court justices or state capitals.

Fun alphabets make learning fun.

Fun Alphabets

Fun alphabets are a great learning tool.
First they have an easy to recognize order. New material needs to be organized and the alphabet already has order.
We can also custom the alphabet to make it more concrete, memorable and fun.
Custom alphabets can be easily manipulated as I will show you later.
First let’s create a fun alphabet using the names of celebrities.

A Christine Aguilera
B Justin Bieber
C Tom Cruise
D Johnny Depp
E Emma Watson
F Michael J. Fox
G Sarah Michelle Geller
H Katie Holmes
I Incredible Hulk
J Michael Jackson
K Kim Kardashian
L Rob Lowe
M Maureen Mc Cormick
N New Kids on the Block
O Barack Obama
P River Phoenix
Q Queen Elizabeth
R Winoma Ryder
S Brook Shields
T Jonathan Taylor Thomas
U Skeet Ulrich
V James Van Der Beek
W Reese Witherspoon
X Xena, the Warrior Princess
Y Robert Young
Z Zorro

Take a look at the list and change any names you want. Perhaps Mathew Broderick works better for you than Justin Bieber. Perhaps you never heard of Robert Young (Marcus Welby, M.D.) or you want to include your pet cat or your best friend.

The more you like the people or pets on the list, the easier it will be to memorize. Go on and memorize the list or make up your own list of sports stars or comic book characters, or friends and neighbors from other the years. Make a fun alphabet that works for you.
How can it help you learn other material? How can the list make learning fun?
Easy. Say I want to memorize the names of the first 26 presidents of the United States in order. I take the list and associate each president’s name with the items in my fun alphabet.

1. Christine Aguilera is surrounded by dollar bills all of them have George Washington’s picture. Or she is washing a ton of dollar bills. “By George,” she says.
2. Justin Beiber sings the theme of the “Addams Family” as he stands in front of a rest room door (A John)
3. Tom Cruise is signing the Declaration of the Independence with George Jefferson and he is slapping a third man on the back. “My name is Tom also.” Perhaps he has a tom cat on his lap.

Make up your own associations. This makes learning new material more fun.

Here is a list of the first 26 presidents. See what associations you can make.

1. George Washington
2. John Adams
3. ThomasJefferson
4. James Madison
5. James Monroe
6. John Quincy Adams
7. Andrew Jackson
8. Martin Van Buren
9. William Henry Harrison
10. John Tyler
11. James K. Polk
12. Zachery Taylor
13. Millard Fillmore
14. Franklin Pierce
15. James Buchanan
16. Abraham Lincoln
17. Andrew Johnson
18. U.S. Grant
19. Rutherford Hayes
20. James Garfield
21. Chester Arthur
22. Grover Cleveland
23. Benjamin Harrison
24. Grover Cleveland (Note that Cleveland was also the 22nd president)
25. William McKinley
26. Theodore Roosevelt




What is thinking outside the box? It is looking for new solutions. What if I ask you what is the missing state in this list?


New York






North Dakota




West Virginia


It is clearly not alphabetical order.

It isn’t the states in the order they entered the union. That would start with Delaware and New Jersey. The states are certainly not in order geographically.

By population? That doesn’t make sense either.

As we try different solutions, we are exposed to new knowledge. Be it the historical like the order states entered the union or geographic. We are learning as we solve a puzzle, but we are learning other things as we look for the answer.


With this puzzle we are doing something that students seldom do. We are thinking. It might take us a while to come around to thinking about state capitals. Most of us learned the in alphabetical order according to the state.


Montgomery, Alabama.

Juneau, Alaska

Phoenix, Arizona. And so on.


But what if we put the state capitals in alphabetical order according to their names.

Then we get:

Albany, New York

Annapolis, Maryland

Atlanta Georgia

Augusta, Maine

Austin, Texas

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Bismark, North Dakota

Boise, Idaho

Boston, Massachusetts


The answer to the puzzle is Nevada because the next capital in order is Carson City, Nevada. Puzzles are fun and certainly less threatening than tests. They inspire real thinking and real learning. Teachers often find puzzles take long chunks of their time and puzzles also have to changed often as the answers become common knowledge. People share puzzles, but rarely share tests. Therefore, teachers prepare tests instead of puzzles.


Serious students can make up their own tests and puzzles to help them learn. They can also try to stump each other. Tests we give ourselves are less threatening than tests given by a teacher. They give us an idea of how much we have learned.


See what kind of puzzles and tests you can create.