The newsletter of the Memory Disorders Project at Rutgers University

Memory Tip: Rhyming To Remember

Try the following:
1. Name all eight of Santa's reindeer.
2. Name the seven dwarves from the movie Snow White.

How did you do? (The answers are at the end of this article.) Most people find it easier to name the reindeer than the dwarves, even though there are eight reindeer and only seven dwarves. That's because many of us remember the line from the famous poem beginning, “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” which helps us to name the reindeer, but we have no such memory aide for the dwarves.

Poetry can be a great tool for encoding random information in a meaningful way. Kindergartners learn the alphabet song to memorize their ABCs; budding carpenters have the line "Righty tighty, lefty loosey" to remind them which way to turn wood screws; and a whole generation of American children learned math and grammar rules from watching the catchy “Schoolhouse Rock” videos that used to be televised during Saturday morning cartoons.

This technique can work in everyday life, too.

For example: one kind of information that is important but hard to remember is dates, such as birthdays and anniversaries. Try constructing a little rhyme—even better if set to the tune of a familiar song—that mentions the dates.

An imaginary family's three grandchildren, Denise, Mary and Robert, might have birthdays that could be encoded as:

  • On December 18,
  • Denise was first seen.
  • Mary's May 12th,
  • And she looks like an elf.
  • On July 21
  • Robert has fun.

And so on. It doesn't have to be good poetry—just catchy enough to help you remember. And imagine how flattered family members will be to learn that you've not only remembered their special day, but you've even written a song in their honor!

(Answers: Santa's reindeer are Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen. The seven dwarves were Sleepy, Sneezy, Grumpy, Dopey, Doc, Happy, and Bashful.)