Using the Loci Method of Visualizing and Memorizing Materials

method of loci
method of loci


An author and educator in Columbia, MO, Willy Wood consults for Open Mind Technologies, Inc. As a proponent of classroom approaches that reflect the ways in which the brain actually processes information, Willy Wood teaches visualization strategies to help students memorize complex materials.

While acronyms, keywords, and rhymes are suitable for remembering simple materials, they do not work well for more complex facts and ideas. One approach, called “chaining,” involves creating a story (often nonsensical) using sound-alike words as a mnemonic for the words or concepts to be recalled.

The method of loci uses sound-alike words as well, but it emphasizes spatial details rather than a chain of narrative events. Using a familiar space, such as a childhood home or school, practitioners journey mentally through the spatial environment, connecting items specific to the materials they wish to memorize. One example involves remembering the stages of mitosis, in order. First, one would visualize entering (interphase) a bedroom and looking at pro (prophase) sports trophies sitting on a bookshelf. The next room is the kitchen, where meat (metaphase) is waiting on the table for dinner. This can continue as a lengthy narrative, which is often easier to remember than difficult scientific terms.

The Neurological Underpinnings of Learning

Brain Image:

Educational consultant Willy Wood is the President of Educational Solutions International in Columbia, MO. Willy Wood also works as the President of Open Mind Technologies, Inc., where he writes, edits, and publishes the monthly brain-based learning newsletter, Neuro News.

In the brain, the learning process begins with the input of sensory information. When the brain perceives this information to be important, it pulls the information, in addition to any related memories from long-term memory into working memory (once called short-term memory), located in the prefrontal cortex. When the information is processed in the prefrontal cortex, it is also sent to the hippocampus to be integrated and consolidated with the rest of a person’s memories in long-term memory storage.

In terms of learning, the frequency with which specific neural networks are accessed has an effect on how strong they become. As such, students can strengthen their memories of a concept by repeating and practicing it many times. Research has shown that memories encoded with multiple types of sensory input are stronger than those encoded with a single type of input, implying that teachers can help students learn by incorporating both visual and audio-based components in their lessons.