Sunday, November 9, 2014

Chaining the Presidents
In my last blog, I discussed chaining, one of the methods that ancient scholars and today's mental athletes use to memorize long strings of numbers, decks of cards and nonsense poems. I suggested that readers practice chaining by making up short shopping lists and chaining the items together. That way they  don't have to bother with written shopping lists and they don't forget any items.  
Remember that chaining is telling a silly story with several items exaggerated.  Some students tell me that they aren't very good at inventing stories.  Give it a try and practice.  With Chaining students not only learn easily, but become more creative. Chaining uses more parts of the brain.
Today we will try to chain a more challenging list.   Suppose you wanted to memorize a list of U.S. Presidents in chronological order.  There were 44 presidents starting with George Washington and moving on to to Barack Obama.  Let's do the first seven now. We can get to the others later or better yet, now that you have learned the technique you can chain them on your own.

The first seven U.S. presidents were:

George Washington
John Adams
Thomas Jefferson
James Madison
James Monroe
John Quincy Adams
Andrew Jackson.

I will start.

I am WASHING a TON of clothes. By GEORGE, I am WASHING a TON of clothes. I hear a knock on the door. It is Gomez ADDAMS and he wants to use the JOHN. (Watch the spelling here. The Addams family on television was different from the Adams family in the history books.)  Gomez sees me WASHING a TON of clothes and he says, “By GEORGE, you need to visit JEFFERSON cleaners.. The clerk there is  a TOM cat named TOM.
I visit JEFFERSON Cleaners to see the cat clerk TOM and I tell him Gomez ADDAMs sent me when he came over to use my JOHN.
I note that JEFFERSON cleaners is on MADISON avenue. I go outside after talking to TOM, and the streets are slippery filled with strawberry JAMS and all the people are wearing CHAINS.  I slip on the  JAM and pull on someone's CHAIN  to  break my fall. Whose CHAIN was it? Marilyn MONROE.  She is wearing several CHAINS.
As Marilyn MONROE helps pull me up.  Along comes Gomez ADDAMS. “You made it,” he says. I notice he is now wearing a big “Q” on his sweater.  He is again looking for a JOHN.  Who is that with him?  He introduces me to QUINCY, the medical examiner.
“I hope you guys find a JOHN,” I say. Instead they turn around and there is  Michael JACKSON. He has a sketch pad. “What are you doing, Michael?”  He says, “I DREW a JACK.” He shows us the JACK of diamonds on his sketch pad. Is that all he DREW? “No,” he says . He DREW AND DREW AND DREW.

So now we chained the first seven presidents of the United States. We have a silly story and concrete images to help us remember the items on the list. Repeat the story several times. Imagine it is your story. You are WASHING the clothes and talking to Gomez ADDAMS and the others. Note that I use a lot of television imagery.  This worked very well for me in the classroom. My students were familiar with television characters and popular actors. You may use friends.
The eighth president was Martin Van Buren. You could use MARTIN Sheen, the actor, or a purple MARTIN bird or someone named MARTIN that you know.  For the last name use a VAN, a type of automobile or a chest of drawers BUREAU.
Let your imagination take wing. Repeat the story a few times.  You won't have to repeat it as many times as you would without the chaining. The story will help you remember the names. The story is more memorable than just a list of names. Remember the story has to be fanciful. It has to be exaggerated to make it more memorable.
Let's see how you can do chaining a list of presidents. Start out where I left off in the story. Or start your own story. Here are the names of all 44 presidents. Note Grover Cleveland is mentioned twice. That is because he was both our 22nd and our 24th president.

1. George Washington, 2. John Adams, 3. Thomas Jefferson, 4. James Madison, 5. James Monroe, 6. John Quincy Adams, 7. Andrew jackson, 8. Martin Van Buren, 9. William Henry Harrison (Tippecanoe),  10. John Tyler, 11. James K. Polk, 12. John Tyler, 13. Millard Fillmore, 14. Franklin Pierce, 15. James Buchanan, 15. Abraham Lincoln, 17. Andrew Johnson, 18. U.S. Grant, 19. Rutherford B. Hayes, 20. James Garfield, 21. Chester Arthur, 22. Grover Cleveland, 23. Benjamin Harrison, 24. Grover Cleveland, 25. William McKinley, 26. Theodore Roosevelt, 27. William Howard Taft, 28. Woodrow Wilson, 29. Warren Harding, 30. Calvin Coolidge, 31. Herbert Hoover, 32. Franklin Delano Roosevelt. 33. Harry Truman, 34. Dwight David Eisenhower, 35. John F. Kennedy, 36. Lyndon Johnson, 37. Richard Nixon, 38. Gerald Ford, 39. Jimmy Carter, 40. Ronald Reagan, 41. George herbert Walker Bush, 42. Bill Clinton, 43. George W. (Dubya) Bush, 44. Barack Obama.
Learning anything new seems difficult at times, but it is not as hard as it looks.  Chain seven eight nine or ten presidents' names at a time. It will seem easier if you learn them in smaller groups.  
Also look for patterns. While teaching a class how to memorize the names of presidents, I had a silly moment and I joked that “Tyler poked Taylor.” (This would be the 10th, 11th and 12th presidents, John Tyler, James K. Polk and Zachary Taylor.) I was surprised to discover that the students liked my little joke and later in the semester they would still say “Tyler poked Taylor.”  They used it as a fun way to remember the order of these three presidents.
I also note the initials of the first seven. WAJ M MAJ. There is a pattern.

See what you can do  with your chaining.

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