Tip #524: Using a Peg System to Memorize Lists

All words are pegs to hang ideas on.Henry Ward Beecher

I recently attended a four-day workshop with Eric Jensen titled: Teaching With the Brain in Mind. According to Eric, brain-based teaching is ” E-S-P: The purposeful Engagement of effective Strategies derived from Principles of the brain.” I learned a lot, which I plan to share in future Tips.

He used a peg system to help us learn and remember his fourteen core brain/mind principles. This was the first time I experienced this training strategy and I found it incredibly effective.

According to Wikipedia, a mnemonic peg system “works by pre-memorizing a list of words that are easy to associate with the numbers they represent (1 to 10, 1-100, 1-1000, etc.). Those objects form the “pegs” of the system. Then in the future, to rapidly memorize a list of arbitrary objects, each one is associated with the appropriate peg.”

My research indicates that peg memory systems are ideal for remembering information that needs to be recalled in a specific order. In the case of the brain/mind principles, each can stand alone Eric’s intent was simply to have us remember them- there was no hierarchy or need for a specific order.

Eric began with the first seven principles. (Working memory can only retain seven items at one time.) He associated each number with a word or phrase accompanied by a physical action. (There is a strong connection between the mind and the body, so engaging us both physically and emotionally increased our likelihood of retention.)

1 is the sun (point up at the sun)

2 is a pair of pants (slap your rear where the label might be)

3 is a tricycle (pretend you are holding the handlebars and turn around making a happy sound)

4 is a table (pound on the table)

5 is a starfish (with palm facing toward your face, wiggle your fingers and pretend the starfish is going to cover your face. Try to hold it back with your other hand.)

6 is a six pack (pretend to open each can with a “whoosh” sound)

7 is dice (pretend to roll the dice, hoping for a lucky seven)

He had us stand and repeat these numbers and movements several times. Once we had mastered these “pegs,” he further associated them with the first seven principles:

1 is the sun, indicating everyone is unique

2 is pants, indicating labels and properties

3 is the tricycle, indicating emotional states

4 is the table, indicating the need to get student attention

5 is the starfish, indicating brains are adaptive and flexible

6 is the six pack, indicating rough drafts (because we rarely get it right the first time)

7 is the dice, indicating prediction

Standing, we practiced saying the numbers, performing the actions, and stating the principles several times.

Then Eric introduced the last seven principles in the same fashion, first by having us repeat the number and perform a related action. Once we had those down pat, he associated them with the remaining principles:

8 is a snowman (draw the shape of a snowman in the air), indicating environments matter.

9 is a baseball (pretend to hit the baseball with a bat and jumping up and down with your hands in the air when you hit a home run), indicating the mind/body connection.

10 is fingers (raise both hands and wiggle all ten fingers, then turn them upside to form two “M”s), indicating malleable memories.

11 is dueling pens (raise the pointer fingers of each hand and have them “duel”), indicating perception, not reality matters

12 is a dozen eggs (hold them out to give to someone else), indicating social conditions

13 is a cat (face the palms of your hands toward your body and place your fingers next to your cheeks to be the cat’s whiskers, then growl as if you were a lion), indicating developmental stages

14 is heart (place your hand over your heart), indicating meaning-making

This peg system made it both easy (and fun) to remember the principles. We had many opportunities to recite the principles in this order, performing the relevant actions. We also paired up and challenged each other to remember the principles out of order.

I’m planning to use a peg system to help supervisors remember seven motivational techniques and trainers to remember the six key steps in lesson plan design. I know I’ll use the numbers. I’ll have to be creative coming up with the associations and actions.

If you have used a peg system, I’d love to hear what it was. And if you haven’t used a peg system before, where might you use one?

May your learning be sweet,


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