One of the oldest mnemonics is the method of loci (loci is a Latin word meaning “places”). This method involves forming vivid interactive images between specific locations and items to be remembered. The first step is to learn a set of places. For instance, you might familiarize yourself with various locations around your house: the front sidewalk, the front doorstep, the front door, the foyer and so on. Once you have permanently memorized the locations, you can then use them to recode experiences for later recall. You can use the method of loci to remember any set of information, such as a grocery list or points in a speech.
The best strategy is to convert each item of information into a vivid mental image by putting it at a familiar location where it can be “seen” in the mind. So, for example, you might remember a grocery list as bread on the front sidewalk, milk on the front porch, bananas hanging from the front door, and so on. When you are at the grocery store and need to remember the list, you can mentally walk through the house and see what object is in each spot. The locations serve as retrieval cues for the desired information. Although this technique may seem far-fetched, with a little practice it can prove quite effective. In fact, the amount of information one can remember using this method is limited only by the number of locations one has memorized.
Another mnemonic that relies on the power of visual imagery is called the pegword method. There are many variations on the pegword method, but they are all based on the same general principle. People learn a series of words that serve as “pegs” on which memories can be “hung.” In one popular scheme, the pegwords rhyme with numbers to make the words easy to remember: One is a gun, two is a shoe, three is a tree, four is a door, five is a hive, six is sticks, seven is heaven, eight is a plate, nine is wine, and ten is a hen. To learn the same grocery list, one might associate gun and bread by imagining the gun shooting the bread. Two is a shoe, so one would imagine a milk carton sitting in a giant shoe, and so on.
When you need to remember the list of groceries, you simply recall the pegwords associated with each number; the pegwords then serve as retrieval cues for the groceries. Peg methods such as this one permit more flexible access to information than does the method of loci. For example, if you want to recite the items backwards for some reason, you can do so just as easily as in the forward direction. If you need to know the eighth item, you can say “eight is a plate” and mentally look at your image for the item on the plate.