Associative Chains: The Best Way to Store Knowledge

The following is a guest post by Zack Hargrove on the topic of associative chains, a technique you can introduce to your students as a way of retaining important information.

Associative Chains: The Best Way to Store Knowledge

To make sense of the complexity of the universe, the human brain has always looked for ways to simplify.  In the modern era, the gigantic amount of available information gives people opportunities to find out more and more about the world. The key to learning and understanding any discipline or phenomenon is the ability to memorize the required knowledge. And the most effective way of doing it is by using the associative chains technique.

How it works

We tend to think in patterns. Our experience has given us a great amount of material that can serve as a foundation for memorizing any type of information. Association chains basically help us find similarities between new pieces of information and those already in our memories. The best way of explaining how it works is by showing some examples. For that reason, I will divide them into two main topics: words and numbers.


1. Names

For some people, it is harder to remember names than formulas. However, forgetting names may lead to worsening relationships. That’s why we should know how to remember them.

My name is Zack Hargrove. Let’s break it down.

∙ Chain #1. You need to remember someone named Zack. If I had to remember my own name, I would associate it with Zack de la Rocha, the vocalist from Rage Against The Machine.

∙ Chain #2. Surnames are usually harder to remember. I would divide Hargrove into two parts. “Har” is for Harvard University. “Grove” is for the street from GTA San Andreas video game.

Result: I am Zack from Rage Against The Machine who decided to go to Harvard all the way from Grove St. The same algorithm can be applied to any other name.

2. Unfamiliar Words or Phrases

Let’s say you’ve begun to study the Spanish language, and you’re having a problem memorizing the phrase “Mucho gusto” (nice to meet you). Sure, you can repeat this phrase over and over in order to remember it. But you can alternatively spend a minute creating the proper associative chain which will help you memorize it instantly.

It all starts with breaking down the phrase (“Mucho gusto”) into several parts, creating a chain that makes sense to you, and linking it to another chain. Let each chain be a paragraph. One way:

∙ Chain #1. One of my favorite shows is Breaking Bad. I am always very excited to watch it, so during pretty much every episode my eyes stay round just like the letter “O”. Mucho gusto – both words end with the letter ”o.”

∙ Chain #2. The word “Mucho” sounds pretty similar to the English word “much”. The only difference is that I have to add the letter “o” at the end.

∙ Chain #3. The name of one of the characters is “Gustavo”. I have to remove the last three letters and replace them with “o”.

The associative chain is complete. I picture myself seeing too much of Gustavo, and feeling surprised about it, so that my eyes become as round as the letter “O”.

The same principle can be used to memorize  unfamiliar word(s). For instance, say you have to remember the word “embedding”. It is the process of putting social media content on a web page. The root word rhymes with the phrase “in bed”. Thus, it is extremely easy to remember it, imagining yourself putting social media content to bed for sleep.


It will be very easy and interesting for sports fans. Many people who are interested in sports (especially the ones that involve teamwork) see many athletes in jerseys, with a specific number on their backs. The bigger sports fan you are, the more likely you’ll remember the names of the players. And this is crucial for remembering numbers. If the die-hard basketball fan has to memorize numbers like “23103241” – he will be very likely to remember it. Why? Because he would only have to choose the players whose numbers fit in this sequence. This is how you might build the associative chain in this case:

∙ 23 – Michael Jordan. Arguably the best player in the history of basketball.
∙ 10 – B.J. Armstrong. Teammate of Jordan, who will assist him.
∙ 32 – Shaquille O’Neal. One of, if not the most, powerful centers in the history of the game;
∙ 41 – Dirk Nowitzki. Unlike Shaquille, a master of free-throw and 3-point shooting.

The same method will help you memorize dates, phone numbers, or debit card PINs.

The technique of associative chains is something that requires practice. The weirder and the longer the description of your chains may sound, the more likely it is to appear in your head when you need to remember it. The process of “imaginative comparative thinking” is fun, interesting, and most importantly, productive. It develops the ability not only to think outside of the box, but it also helps you exercise your “creative muscle” and memorize the necessary information.

Author Bio:

Zack Hargrove is an editor-in-chief at One of his missions is to share ideas on how to sustain your curiosity on its highest level. He enjoys writing about most things, but especially science and music.

12 Distinctive Types of Teachers We’ve All Seen in Our School Life

A guest post by Joanne Criss


The contribution of teachers in shaping the future of an individual cannot be denied or doubted. In fact, our school life would be incomplete without the teachers. And like any normal human being, they all have their quirks and styles that made them stand out. Some are stern, some are emotional, and some are considerate, while some are funny. So, here’s a rather humorous take on the teachers you must have definitely come across while in school.

Hitler’s worthy successor

Well, you can understand by the moniker itself that sitting through this teacher’s class is almost like experiencing a Nazi concentration camp. And god forbid if you turn up late, then hell hath no fury like the teacher’s scorn. In fact, taking a sip of water during one of his/her classes may get you dangerously close to detention (alright, that might have been an exaggeration, but you get the drift, right?). Basically, every little action of yours will come across as disrespectful to them.

The perpetually stressed

The fact that teaching is hard becomes all too evident in the case of this teacher. But you can’t really blame them, can you? There’s only so much an individual can juggle, between all the meetings, assessments, preparing lesson plans, organizing events, which can easily push them to the limits of their sanity. It’s only human to feel stressed. You can find this teacher taking deep breaths at regular intervals and popping a pill to tame a persistent headache.

The “all hearts” teacher

This is the teacher we have all relied on throughout our school days. No matter what concerns you had regarding your studies and exam prep, or if you needed some valuable life advice, you would always find yourself reaching out to them. In fact, this teacher values the students like no other. They are also the ones that don’t shy away from showing how proud they are of their students.

The human encyclopedia

This teacher knows about all the pathbreaking discoveries and innovations to have existed in the realm of technology. They’re extremely passionate about science and technology and things that happen around the world and possess an unending love for learning and the art of teaching. They are likely to have answers to all your questions and can help you broaden the horizon of your knowledge about the world. Whenever you are in need of some assignment help, you can always turn to them without hesitation.

Sluggish than the sloth

This teacher rarely leaves the chair. So intense is their love for the chair and the desk, that it seems even an apocalypse won’t be able to drive them apart. While in the class, they are mostly busy doing their own thing, after assigning you the task. Even if there is a problem in class, that isn’t really worth getting up from the chair for them. They would just shout from their prized seat and then go back to doing whatever they were doing in the first place.

The “holier-than-thou” teacher

If you have studied in a convent, it’s highly likely that you have had a close encounter with the nuns. Even though they have a gentle demeanour, they spend an awful lot of time trying to mask their almost apparent disapproval at your deeply uncatholic lifestyles, while in class.

The eternally enthusiastic

Their energy could put Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps to shame. They are always engaged in activities and find newer ways to teach in class. Be it creating poems with chemistry equations and rapping grammar lessons, trust them to bring a unique approach to learning, every time they are taking a class. However, it’s still a mystery how they maintain their enthusiasm and physical endurance all day, every day.

The Comedian

Give them a mic, and they can be easily passed off as a stand-up comedian. Well, even as a teacher they ensure that there is not a dull moment in class. And quite frankly, who doesn’t like a little comic relief in between tedious trigonometry or an organic chemistry lesson, right? Well, thanks to them you could keep your stress levels in check while sitting through long hours in class. And, whether you admit or not, you like them for being a constant source of laughter in class.

The over-organizer

Nobody appreciates order and harmony like this teacher. They are always particular about everything and want their stuff in a certain manner. You can be rest assured that they will notice if you meddle with their things. They’re all for colour-coordinated files, labeling, bins, bulletin boards, filing cabinets, and their precious markers.

Their drawers, desk, and cabinets are always clutter-free and clean. These teachers are known to be extremely efficient since they are perfectly aware where all the important files and documents are. So having them around must have taught you a lesson or two about the importance of getting organized in life.

The health-freak teacher

We’ve all had this teacher in school (usually in-charge of games and physical activities) who firmly believes that physical activity is also a part of the learning process. This type of teacher is always found giving elaborate pep-talks to students about physical fitness and healthy eating. In fact, this teacher can easily convince anyone to replace yoga with soda.

So, even when you aren’t ready to give up on your daily fill of snacks and Diet Coke, these teachers can be a great influence in terms of maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

The ancient one

This teacher has been teaching for a prolonged time and has been in the school for generations. They often tend to be forgetful and frail. There are high chances that they may forget to inform you about an upcoming test or a quiz.

Since their memory doesn’t serve them quite well, they may be a little tricky to deal with. They need to be reminded continuously of the activities they are supposed to be carrying out in the class.

The “Moody” Mary

You may have heard about the game of Russian roulette, and attending a class of this teacher feels quite the same as playing the game. They can be your greatest motivator one day, and then on the very next day, they would come across like a warden of a prison. When he/she is in a jovial mood, it won’t take much time for you to forget that you had to stand outside the class for half an hour the day before for sneezing a little too loudly.


Regardless of their unique demeanour and traits, we all cherish them for being an integral part of our school life. So, how many types of teachers have you come across in your school life? Let us know in the comments section below.

Author Bio: Joanne Criss is a visiting faculty in a distinguished educational institution in Australia. She has pursued her Master’s from the University of Aberdeen. She devotes her time to many philanthropic organizations focused on children’s education. She is also a part of as an academic expert.

The Best Parent-Teacher Conference Advice

I don’t remember much from the year I spent as a student teacher. It was in a fifth-grade classroom. The kids were mostly well behaved. When I took over lead teaching, I had the idea that I would run a classroom where students didn’t need to raise their hands. My mentor teacher looked at me askance, but to her credit allowed me to fail on my own. Most of the time, I was trying to keep my head above water. I learned most by failing, but there were a few things my mentor teacher did that I took with me to my first job. Some of the most enduring lessons were on how to conduct parent-teacher conferences. After 18 years in the classroom and an estimated 450 conferences, here are my five best pieces of advice:

Let the Parent Go First

Here’s how my mentor teacher put it before the very first parent walked in on our first night of conferences: “Always start by asking the parent if they have anything they’d like to talk about.” Most parents will come in and be content to hear what you have to say. But there will usually be a couple who have a burning issue they’ve been waiting to address with you. If you start in with your prepared remarks, or student artifacts, or the progress report, these parents will not be listening. They’ll be thinking about what they want to say, just like you do when you’re pissed off in a staff meeting and can’t wait to vent while your principal blathers on about something you care not a whit about.

If a parent walks in with student work in her hand, you can bet that’s what she wants to talk about. Start your conference with these words: “Hi, thanks for coming! Now, before I get into what I’m going to say, is there anything you’d like to discuss?” Then shut up and listen.

Show That You Understand Their Kid

You spend seven hours every day with your students. Their parents spend less. More than wanting to know how their child is doing in school (they usually know) and whether or not they behave during class (they have a pretty good idea about that, too), parents want to know if you get their kid. They want to know if you respect their child enough to get to know them and accept them for their differences. They want to know if you see the children in front of you as individuals.

Say at least one non-judgmental thing that shows you understand each child.  Even if your observation is a less-than-desirable characteristic, the fact that you’ve noticed their kid is important to parents.

Be Honest 

A former colleague interviewed for a teaching job with another district but didn’t get it, even though she thought it went well. During the call where she learned she wasn’t getting the job, she asked what she could have done differently. She was told she was a “model candidate” and received no constructive feedback. She asked what she could do to improve and was basically told nothing.

People crave feedback. We don’t mind being told hard truths if it will help us get what we want. Parents want their children to succeed, and to do so they need to know what their children can do to make that happen. Telling parents that their child “lacks motivation” when in reality they don’t do any work in the room at all is a disservice. Reporting that a child creates a lot of “interpersonal conflict” is hiding behind jargon. Just say they don’t play well with others and that in most of the cases, you’ve observed their child to be the instigator.

Don’t be a jerk, but do be honest.

If Jimmy doesn’t focus on his work and gets little done in class, say so. If Susan acts without thinking and her impulsivity regularly interferes with others’ learning, let the parents know. If Quentin is reading behind grade level and you’ve witnessed him on many occasions doing everything he can to avoid reading, explain to his mom and dad that he’s not going to improve unless he actually reads.

Parents can’t help their kids get better if they don’t know what to work on and you’re in the best position to know what they need to work on, so tell them.

Describe, Don’t Diagnose

Teachers aren’t doctors and shouldn’t pretend they are. We don’t know the causes of what we’re seeing and even if we’ve seen it ten times before, we should stay in our lane. If pushed by parents — I sometimes have parents who come right out and ask if I think their child has ADHD–stick to what you have observed.

“He has a very hard time focusing. He rarely finishes assignments. Yesterday, he completed the first three problems in three minutes, but then completed only one more over the next fifteen minutes.”

“He doesn’t get work done and he bothers others during work time.”

“Whenever he doesn’t get his way, he throws a fit. Other students have noticed and they avoid him.”

Telling parents what you’ve seen puts you in the position of simply being a reporter. If pressed, stick to that role. You can even add, “I’m just telling you that this is what I’ve witnessed in the classroom.”

Let There Be No Surprises

A good way to have a disastrous conference night is to never tell parents anything until they’re sitting right in front of you and then unload all the bad news at once. They feel ambushed, and you come across as unprofessional. You have all the knowledge, you’ve kept it to yourself, and then you’ve sprung it on an unsuspecting victim in a public place where they can’t just get up and storm out without looking like horrible parents. Save yourself a lot of trouble by letting the parents know, at the earliest date, about any problems their child is having at school. If a parent is surprised at any point during the conference, then you haven’t been communicating enough. If you’ve dropped the ball in this regard (and I have), admit it.

Say: “I’m sorry. I should have called,” or  “I should have sent home more student work.” Ask them how frequently they would like to be updated going forward. Then promise to do better.

A good conference is about the teacher first listening to any concerns the parents may have and then communicating the information parents need to know so they can help their children succeed. Do the above, and your conferences will be productive.


How School Counselors Can Help Students Overcome Emotional Barriers

A guest post by Frankie Wallace


While many physical barriers to learning are often obvious, the emotional and social issues students face often go unseen and can be equally disruptive in a student’s education. These invisible issues may manifest in a number of ways, including low grades, poor attendance, behavioral issues, and other misleading displays. With so many students to instruct and interact with, teachers may not be able to cater specifically to students’ emotional states.

Fortunately, school counselors have the training and passion to help acknowledge and face these challenges. Here are two major ways school counselors can help students overcome emotional barriers involved with getting an education.

Boosting Self-Confidence

When students struggle to understand the materials covered in class, it can be easy to develop destructive thought patterns. Being surrounded by classmates who seem to be doing just fine in the classroom can encourage some students to believe they are inherently deficient and incapable of learning about various subjects.

This can affect the student’s grades, their behavior, their personal relationships, and can have lifelong impacts on the ways they interact with the world. For example, a student who struggles with reading and comprehension skills may avoid opportunities to build these skills. Unfortunately, low literacy rates make it more difficult for people to find quality employment and may contribute to ongoing self-esteem issues. Furthermore, students with negative mentalities about their learning abilities may pass these same mindsets on to future generations.

Educators may have trouble picking up on the specific causes of a student’s performance in the classroom. There are many factors that can contribute to a poor understanding of the material, and when students feel vulnerable, they may be more likely to lash out rather than ask for help. It’s important to acknowledge that teachers aren’t immune to intense emotions, whether or not these are intentionally expressed. In some cases, teachers may seem intimidating or outright antagonistic from a student’s point of view.

In contrast, school counselors aren’t responsible for giving homework and exams or assigning grades, which may draw fear and frustration from students. Because of this, school counselors are well-positioned to speak with students about their struggles, identifying thought patterns and circumstances that are interfering with their ability to learn. Afterward, counselors can work with the students to create plans for new ways of thinking.

A student’s confidence may not be tied directly to school itself. Outside circumstances such as family and financial issues may contribute heavily to a student’s lack of belief in themselves. To help begin rebuilding a sense of self-worth, a counselor may suggest simple exercises like creating a list of the student’s positive qualities and activities they enjoy. Items on the list might not relate directly to school, but they can help bridge the gap between the student’s sense of self when doing something they love versus their diminished confidence in the classroom.

Positive change in a student’s self-confidence won’t come all at once, even if the student is open to a counselor’s suggestions. However, without some sort of healthy intervention, low confidence will only increase the chance a student will continue to struggle and retreat from educational challenges and opportunities.

Responding to Violence and Trauma

With the national spotlight on school shootings, bomb threats, and other acts of violence, it can be difficult for students to feel safe in school. Although school shootings are still relatively rare, the attention these tragic events receive can easily encourage a lasting state of paranoia.

Even efforts to create safety measures can disrupt the psychological well-being of students. For example, when schools conduct active-shooter drills, students of all ages are asked to hide from imaginary gunmen. While these practices can help protect students against future tragedies, they can also create lingering fears.

When responding to these fears, school counselors can help students to focus on the predictability of their routines and encourage them to limit their exposure to the news. It’s important not to encourage outright denial of these events when they happen, but obsessing over them can create unhealthy thought patterns.

Students who bottle up their emotions may be distracted, causing them to lose focus on everyday tasks, including school work. They may also act out with anger in response to their fear as a way of coping or protecting themselves. Because of this, perhaps the most important thing counselors can do is listen to students’ fears and concerns and work to identify healthy coping strategies.

Violence in schools doesn’t have to involve a major crisis. Some of the greatest harm goes unseen in various forms of bullying, including physical abuse, verbal abuse, social exclusion, or damage to property. Physical hitting, spreading rumors, sexual comments, threatening, and stealing belongings are some of the most common forms of harassment in schools. Students who are victims of bullying face an increased risk for poor social adjustment, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, and depression. This affects their grades as well as their ability to grow into well-balanced adults.

One of the first steps school counselors can take is to encourage students to report bullying. This can be extremely challenging for students currently facing abuse as they are already living in fear. If they tell someone about what is happening, they may fear the bully will learn who told on them, after which, things will only get worse. While counselors can’t force students to come forward, creating a clear pathway and encouraging students to speak up is one of the only ways to break the cycle of abuse.

Rather than directly punishing a bully, which could spur a violent reaction, school counselors may work with large groups to teach empathy for their fellow classmates and seek out peaceful methods for dealing with conflict. Over time, this can create more understanding student populations and help bullies to find healthy ways to deal with their own emotions.

On an individual level, school counselors can work with abused students to find healthier ways of processing their emotions related to harassment. Often students who are bullied come to believe they deserve physical abuse and change their self-image based on the insults they hear. With effective counseling, students can learn to challenge the lies bullies tell them, regaining belief in themselves and moving forward despite past abuse.

As with self-confidence issues, trauma can easily extend from circumstances outside of a student’s education. These situations and events may be beyond the school system’s control, yet the psychological effects on students can still have a major impact on their success.

In a perfect world, student success would depend solely on their willingness to take part in their education. Unfortunately, there are many factors that can disrupt a student’s progress, creating extreme emotional challenges. However, school counselors are trained to assess and work through a vast number of difficulties a student might experience. When students can realize and take advantage of this amazing resource, they stand to perform better academically and develop social skills and coping mechanisms that will serve them for the rest of their lives.

The Fastest Way to Get Your Students to Clean the Room

I teach third graders and they all have desks with openings like the mouth of a whale shark. Being third graders, they cram all sorts of stuff in them. Which means all sorts of stuff falls out of them. All day long.

I can’t bring myself to care that much most of the day. We have better things to do than constantly pick up the floor. And since most of the trash is produced by about five students, I get tired of nagging those kids all day long (probably like my wife gets tired of telling me to pick up after myself).

So I wait until the end of the day. Of course, by this time, the floor is festooned with all manner of pens, markers, half-crayons, breakfast bar wrappers, pencil shavings, and God knows what else. And, impossibly, not one of those items belongs to any individual student, so most of them balk at picking them up (even after giving the ‘ole “This is our room and we this and team that and all for one and one-for-all” rah-rah speech.

And I can’t say I blame them. I don’t like picking up after slobs either.

Over the years, I’ve tried all sorts of methods for keeping the floor clean. I once had a custodian who used to write scathing critiques on my whiteboard at night for me to see in the morning.  I’d read it to my students in the hopes that it would shame them into being neater. I’ve done the whole, “We’re not leaving until it’s clean” routine, which works but has the effect of ending the day on a sour note, with me barking at or pleading with kids and them resenting me for making them pick up other people’s trash and resenting their classmates for making messes and lying about it.

No matter what I did, it was nagging and negative and no fun.

So about five years ago I decided to go positive and make a game out of the whole thing.

I bribe them. I bribe them unabashedly.

The game is called Mystery Trash and it’s played like this:

As students mill about grabbing their backpacks and ignoring all of the items they’re stepping on or around, I loudly announce, “It’s time for everyone’s favorite game…Mystery Trash! Who will be today’s lucky winner? Who will win a fabulous prize? Only the person who finds and picks up the MYSTERY TRASH!”

I then scan the room as students follow my eyes, trying to guess which item I’m going to select as the mystery trash. Once I find something, I say, “Ok, I’ve chosen the mystery trash. Go!”

Students dart around the room like human hoovers sucking up everything in about 30 seconds. I, of course, make sure to not stare the item down so as not to tip them off, and, okay, the truth is I sometimes change the item to one a favorite student grabbed. Sue me.

Once the floor is clean (and not a second before, no matter when the mystery trash item was picked up), I announce that the mystery trash has been found. I then tell students that everything in their hands has to be put where it belongs (because the mystery trash item doesn’t have to be trash but anything that isn’t where it should be) or thrown away. If not, I will not announce the winner (And at this point, they all still think they might have won).

Once students are quiet and back to their desks, I announce the winner with a flourish:

And the winner of Mystery Trash is… Oscar!

At which point Oscar makes his way to the prize box and chooses an item that cost me a few pennies.

Totally worth it. The room is cleaned quickly. We end on a fun, positive note. We go home immediately after, so no one stews for long about not winning (after all, they get to go home and that’s winning, too!) And bribery is used exactly how the science says it should be used: to motivate people to do simple, undesirable jobs.

So if your floor is a mess at the end of the day, you don’t mind bribery, you have nothing against putting cheap candy in a prize box, and you just want the room picked up quick, give Mystery Trash a try!