Peg Word System: Memorizing Lists

Frustrated student in class

When I was a freshman in college I learned a study technique in my psychology class that made studying for tests immeasurably easier. When the professor explained it, I thought it sounded absurd, not to mention ineffective. But the professor who recommended it used to give incredible lectures with no notes and was very well-respected for his brilliance and competence. Students were in continual awe of him, wondering how he remembered all of his lectures so well. I knew if he suggested a memory technique, it was worth a try. Boy, am I glad I tried it.

The technique my professor taught us is known as the Peg Words System and works particularly well when it is necessary to memorize a list or sequence of events. Each item in the list is assigned a “peg word.” Then the students are to create associations between the peg words and the items on the list. The more outlandish the associations, the easier it is to remember the items.

Confused? Don’t worry. This will all make sense once I give you an example.

Let’s assume a fifth grade teacher requires that her students learn all of the rights granted by the First Amendment to the Constitution. The students need to memorize this list:

  1. Freedom of religion
  2. Freedom of speech
  3. Freedom of press
  4. Right to assemble
  5. Right to petition

First, the students need a peg word to assign to each item. The peg words are simple to remember because each one rhymes with the number in the list.  These peg words don’t change. They can be used for any list, any time it needs to be memorized. Here is my peg word list, which I created in college and have had my students use with great success:

one = sun

two = shoe

three = tree

four = door

five = drive

six = sticks

seven = heaven

eight = gate

nine = dine

ten = hen

Next, the students need to create some kind of a mental association between the peg words and the items on the list that needs to be memorized.

Here is an example of the associations a student might make:

  1. One/sun – Freedom of religion + sun: I picture people bowing down to worship the sun. This helps me remember the word religion and then I am able to remember that the first right granted in the First Amendment is the freedom of religion.
  2. Two/shoe – Freedom of speech + shoe: I picture a shoe talking. In fact, the tongue of the shoe is flapping up and down as the shoe talks. This helps me remember that the second right granted is freedom of speech.
  3. Three/tree – Freedom of press + tree: I picture a tree being cut down and made into paper, which is then made into newspapers. The newspapers help me remember that the third right granted is the freedom of the press.
  4. Four/door – Right to assemble + door: I picture a great many people walking through a door to assemble together to discuss a political issue.
  5. Five/drive – Right to petition + drive: I imagine a car driving in such a way that it creates a signature on the roadway. This signature reminds me that the final right granted in the first amendment is the freedom to petition the government.

Finally, students use their easily remembered peg words to call to memory each of the rights granted in the first amendment. They should write them down, color a picture, or do anything that will help cement their associations in their minds.

Again, the more absurd the association, the more easily it will be remembered, so encourage your students to HAVE FUN and even BE A LITTLE SILLY!

I know what you’re thinking. This is too much work just to teach my students how to memorize a list. Plus it probably won’t work. Please. Just give it a try. I can guarantee you after your students try this once they will see how effective it is and will become very proficient at creating peg word lists and remembering the things they are required to know.

We have included a free Peg Words Template worksheet to teach your students how to use this method. Download it and try it with your students today!

Peg Words Worksheet – ClassCrown Original