Here’s a quick game that you can teach your kids to help them learn to apply mnemonics and also build a foundation for later study skills. Kids may not be too keen on studying, but if it’s fun they’ll do it all day long. My kids and I usually play this while driving.
One person is the storyteller. Their job is to tell a (very short) story that uses three words provided by the other participants. Any three words will do; we like to use nouns or verbs, the stranger the better. For example, “gorilla, ball gown, light saber.”
The storyteller tells a short story (usually under two minutes long) using all three words.
once upon a time there was a great, green, gorilla whose evil sisters would never allow out of the house. On a dark and stormy night the gorilla escaped through an attic window, shimmied down a jungle tree, and into a garden party next door.
The garden party guests thought she was beautiful, but under-dressed, so they did a makeover on the spot, clothing her in a silver tiara and a sparkly, blue, ball gown.
Just as they were putting on the finishing touches a black-clad Darth Vader stepped out from behind the Oleander bush and drew his humming, red, light saber. Our erstwhile green heroine pulled a blue light saber of her own (perfect match to her ball gown, natch) and drove off the black-masked menace. The great, green gorilla in the beautiful blue gown was the light saber wielding wunderkind of the party and lived happily ever after.
Each participant takes a turning telling the story based on the words provided by the listeners. You can make it more challenging for older kids by using more than three words and/or using more abstract words, for example, “pucker, spinster, pusillanimous, storied, and salamander.” You can see how this can easily be used to practice SAT and GRE vocabulary as well.
My seven year old loooves this game and is always begging me for three words when we get in the car. Older kids or the more competitive may like to play for points.
In that case, each listener awards the story points from 1 to 10 … one being, “I’ve read better stories on the back of shampoo bottles,” and 10 being, “Bill Shakespeare’s got nothin’ on you. Sometimes we even have the storytellers rate their own stories. All must also provide specific reasoning for their ranking.
This game teaches lots of skills …
- Creativity, obviously
- Linking words and concepts in a memorable way (that’s much of what mnemonics is, after all).
- Narrative structure. I would explain that each story needs a beginning, where the main characters and a problem to be overcome are introduced; a middle, in which various means are attempted to overcome the problem; and an ending, in which the problem is solved.
- Good speaking habits. We all clap once each time the storyteller uses a verbal placeholder such as “um” or “uh.” When my oldest started junior high, we also started including “like,” because he, like, used it ad-nauseum. Quick improvements in this department are made by all (dad included).
- Interpersonal skills and critical judgment. You have to think hard before giving someone a low score, trying not to offend, yet providing them valuable feedback. You don’t want them to roast you when you tell your next story. I encouraged them to use the “oreo” feedback method; tell them something they did right, then something that needed improvement, followed by something else they did right. (For those of you around the world who may not be familiar with oreos, they are sandwich cookies, with two chocolate cookies surrounding a sweet icing filling.)
- Use of adverbs and adjectives. I encourage them to use descriptive terms to make the story more interesting (and memorable) such as “great, green gorilla,” and “black-masked menace.”
BONUS: Next day, ask them what their three words were. I bet they’ll remember them!