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How To Remember The U.S. Presidents

Updated on August 6, 2013

Remembering lists like the names of the U.S. Presidents can be made easier with little memory tricks.

In this lens I will suggest a couple of ways you can learn to remember the names of all of the U.S. Presidents quickly and easily.

Chunking, Mnemonics, Story Telling, and Repetition

To learn and remember the names of the U.S. presidents we will use a combination of 4 memory techniques:

Chunking, Mnemonics, Story Telling, and Repetition

Chunking

The word chunking comes from a famous 1956 paper by George A. Miller, The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on our Capacity for Processing Information. The background of chunking gets quite detailed. If you want the whole gory story here is a good place to start: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chunking_%28psycholog...

Essentially, the theory behind chunking is: we learn much faster/better if we break the information down into chunks of 5 to 7 items. In this lens we will use chunking, mnemonics, story telling, and repitition to remember the names of the U.S. Presidents - first in short term memory and then in long term memory.

Mnemonics

A mnemonic, is a learning technique that aids memory. Commonly, mnemonics are verbal (such as a very short poem or a special word used to help a person remember something) but may be visual, kinesthetic or auditory. Mnemonics rely on associations between easy-to-remember constructs which can be related back to the data that is to be remembered. This is based on the principle that the typical human mind much more easily remembers spatial, personal, surprising, sexual, humorous or otherwise meaningful information than arbitrary sequences.

Story Telling

In ancient times most information was passed on by word of mouth, for the very good reason that writing and writing materials were restricted to the wealthy and highly educated. For information to last over great times and distances, it had to be in a highly memorable form. And one of the most memorable ways to store and transport information was, and still is, in the form of a story.

Stories are memorable because they are contain vivid images, have connected elements, and evoke emotions in the listener.

In learning the names of the U.S. Presidents, we will create a silly sentence for each chunk of information and combine the sentences into a short story that helps us tie the 6 chunks of information into one, larger chunk of information.

Repetition

Initially, we will learn the names of all 42 Presidents in our short term memory. This would be fine if you have a test tomorrow but you don't need to retain the information for any length of time. To commit this (any) information to long term memory, you have to use repetition to get it there. For example, once you have learned the names of all the U.S. Presidents you might review them daily for 5 to 7 days. Then monthly for 3 or 4 months. That should get the information into your long term memory and you should be able to recall the information at any time in the future.

I once helped my daughter create a mnemonic for how to say the phrase "How old are you" in Spanish for a test she had. Then, every day for a week I asked her to describe the mnemonic for me and what it represented. The mnemonic was a crazy picture of a Quantas airplane, with a Koala bear riding on top of the plane and I don't remember the rest of the Mnemonic, but I guarantee you, to this day (30 years later) she can still remember that picture and how to say "¿Cuántos años tiene usted?"

In learning the names of the 42 U.S. Presidents, instead of a crazy picture we will create 6 silly sentences that actually create a short "silly" story and the first letter of each word in each silly sentence will remind us of the next president's name.

Ready to learn the names of the U.S. Presidents? Good, then let's get busy.

This year give them exactly what they want!
No matter what it is.

The First 8 Presidents

Our first chunk of information we want to commit to memory is the list of the first 8 presidents:

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

For our mnemonic to help us remember these 8 Presidents we will create a silly sentence that is easy to remember using the first letter of each Presidents last name.

The letters that represent the last names of these Presidents are: W,A,J,M,M,A,J,V.

One silly sentence to help you remember this list of names is:

Wilma and John made merry and just vanished.

Keep repeating the list in your head and write it down a few times. Repeat this until you can write the entire list easily by memory.

Of course, at this point you will only have this information in short term memory and the information will fade fairly quickly. After we get all 44 Presidents names in short term memory, we can move this information to long term memory by using the principal of repetition. More on that later.

Presidents 9 - 15

Once you feel you have memorized the first 8 Presidents we will move on to the next 7 Presidents.

9. William Henry Harrison

10. John Tyler

11. James K. Polk

12. Zachary Taylor

13. Millard Fillmore

14. Franklin Pierce

15. James Buchanan

Here is the silly sentence that we will use for these Presidents (H, T, P, T, F, P, B):

He told people they'd found perfect bliss.

Now work with this sentence and these 7 president's names until you feel you have memorized them well.

Presidents 16 - 23

Ready for the next group of president's?

16. Abraham Lincoln

17. Andrew Johnson

18. Ulysses S. Grant

19. Rutherford B. Hayes

20. James A. Garfield

21. Chester A. Arthur

22. Grover Cleveland

23. Benjamin Harrison

These president's last names start with L, J, G, H, G. A, C, and H

Continuing the story of Wilma and John, here is the sentence you can use to remember these president's names:

Love just got him good and consumed him.

Try to memorize the list first, without using a mnemonic sentence. Then use your sentence to check your memory. Otherwise, you're just going to end up with a fuzzy, scandalous notion about John and Wilma stuck in your head, and that won't do you much good in class!

President's 24 - 32

The next "chunk" of president's names are:

24. Grover Cleveland

25. William McKinley

26. Theodore Roosevelt

27. William Howard Taft

28. Woodrow Wilson

29. Warren G. Harding

30. Calvin Coolidge

31. Herbert Hoover

32. Franklin D. Roosevelt

The last names of these president's begin with the letters: C,M,R,T,W,H,C,H,and R

Continuing our story of Wilma & John, a silly sentence you can use to remember these is:

Crazy man, really. That Wilma had captured him romantically!

Practice this new chunk of information until you feel comfortable that you remember all the names, then move on to the next group.

Presidents 33 - 39

Only two chunks of information left to learn.....you are almost there!

33. Harry S. Truman

34. Dwight D. Eisenhower

35. John F. Kennedy

36. Lyndon Johnson

37. Richard Nixon

38. Gerald Ford

39. James Earl Carter

.

These president's names begin with the letters: T,E,K,J,N,F,and C

So, a silly sentence you can use to remember these names is:

Today, everyone knows John never found comfort.

Practice this new chunk of information until you feel comfortable that you remember all the names, then move on to the last 5 president's names.

Presidents 40 - 44

The last 5 president's names are:

40. Ronald Wilson Reagan

41. George H. W. Bush

42. William J. Clinton

43. George W. Bush

44. Barack Obama

These president's last names begin with the letters: R,B,C,B,O

The silly sentence you can use to remember these names is:

Really, bliss can be overrated.

Practice this last chunk of information until you feel comfortable that you remember all five names.

Moving Information From Short Term to Long Term Memory

Congratulations!

If you followed all the way through these exercises,you now can remember all 44 president's names in 6 chunks of information in your short term memory.

To move the president's names to your long term memory I suggest that each day for 7 days you practice remembering each chunk of information until you can recite all 6 mini lists of president's names without a miss. By using repetition over 7 days you will actually and automatically combine the 6 mini chunks of information into one larger chunk of all 44 president's names, and you will have moved the data to your long term memory.

Then once a month or so, go back and recite all 44 president's names. This will reinforce that you have successfully stored this full list in long term memory.

If you do everything listed in this lens, 20+ years from now you should be able to recite the names of the U.S. President's easily.

Another Method

If you have younger children who want/need to learn the names of the U.S. president's, this animated video mighta do the trick.

For Extra Credit.....

Just for fun I thought I would throw in this video.

Well, how many states/capitals do you know?

Credits

Credit for the Mnemonics used in this lens goes to Grace Flemming (http://homeworktips.about.com/bio/Grace-Fleming-17634.htm).

You can read her article here: "http://homeworktips.about.com/od/historyhomework/ss/presidents_6.htm

Reader Feedback

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    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Thank You for the article. I am from Russia but I am very interested in world history and it will be useful to learn at last U.S. Presidents.

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 4 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      Hi, I will be adding this great lens to the Related Lenses on my Acronyms, Rhymns and Songs To Learn Facts. Enjoyed my visit. Thanks.

    • dmerrill lm profile image
      Author

      dmerrill lm 4 years ago

      @iijuan12: Great.

      Thank you!

    • iijuan12 profile image

      iijuan12 4 years ago from Florida

      By the way, I'm featuring your great lens on my Presidents Day Unit Study lens. https://hubpages.com/education/presidents-day-unit

    • rawwwwwws lm profile image

      rawwwwwws lm 4 years ago

      Blessed

    • iijuan12 profile image

      iijuan12 4 years ago from Florida

      I love mnemonics! Thank you for sharing your creative tips on learning the presidents in order!

    • profile image

      pelagic 5 years ago

      Good description of the various techniques for memorization.

      In the case of Presidents, it might be better and more logical to memorize a little bit about why a given President replaced his predecessor. For example: Vietnam made Lyndon Johnson unpopular so he got replaced by the other party's guy (Nixon) who got forced out of office and was replaced by his Vice President (Ford) who couldn't overcome the scandal so he was replaced by the other party's guy (Carter) but the economy did badly so he got replaced by the other party's guy (Reagan) who was popular so he got replaced by his Vice President (Bush) but the economy faltered so he got replaced by Clinton, and so on.

      This is a form of memorization based on story telling, too, only the story is directly related to the facts we're trying to memorize.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I will have to practice this, I am sure that it comes in handy for exams as well from memory

    • Kasfeldt7 LM profile image

      Kasfeldt7 LM 5 years ago

      Although slightly more complicated, learning the peg and linking to each president works extremely well. http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/56064

    • profile image

      pawpaw911 6 years ago

      Very Interesting, but I might not remember the silly sentence :)