Mnemonic Weekly Tip: # 22          February 23, 2003
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The Problem
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Children and adults who have reading problems often find that words that are similar are difficult to remember.  Words such as pay and play or black and back are as confusing for a 6 year old who has a right/left discrimination problem, as they are for the 55 year old adult who has the same problem.  What makes these words so confusing for people who have this problem is that one word is in both words.  Pay is in play and back is in black.  When a reader who confuses these words, encounters them in text, he or she usually takes a guess.  Sometimes the guess is correct and what is being read makes sense.  Other times the person guesses wrong and the sentence may not make sense. 

The Mnemonic: # 22

The mnemonic clues for these words are combined with weighted learning to provide the person with a way to eliminate the confusion.  The technique of weighted learning means that the person learns one part of a pair very well so that if it is not that one, it is the other.  Both pairs have an extra letter, play has an l and black has an l.   The person learns to associate these letters as a mnemonic clue.  The l in play can be seen as a baseball bat.  When the person encounters the words pay or play, he or she looks for the baseball bat or l and knows that that is the word play.  If the word does not have an l or baseball bat, it is the other word pay.  The same is true for the word black.  The person associates the l with the color black.  This can be done by visualizing the l as the handle of a paintbrush that is used to paint something black.      

     A number of teachers and students have asked to have the Mnemonic Clue of the Week sent to them each week. If you would like to receive this service, send your e-mail address to  
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Richard Cooper