Mnemonic Weekly Tip: # 20           February 9, 2003
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The Problem
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Individuals who have difficulties with items that are inverted (opposite of what one would expect) struggle with many items in math.  An example of an inversion is the symbols that represent inch and foot .  The inch is the smaller unit of measurement but the symbol is the larger one because it has two marks.  The foot is the larger unit of measurement but the symbol is the smaller because it has one mark.  When a person who has a right/left discrimination problem, (the thought process that makes it difficult to learn and remember items that are similar), encounters the symbols for inches or feet, he often does not remember which symbol represents which concept.  If he tries to use logic, the larger symbol represents the larger unit; he is incorrect. 

       As with other items that appear to be so simple to remember, individuals who do not have a right/left discrimination problem find the confusion of these symbols incomprehensible.  But for those people who have a problem with inversion, they continue to be confused until they learn a way to eliminate the confusion that makes sense to them. 

The Mnemonic: # 20

The technique of weighted learning, (learning one part of a pair), provides the basis of the mnemonic clue.  An individual learns to make the single mark  '  and, eventually, visualizes it as a longer mark /.    The larger mark represents the larger unit the foot.  The technique of weighted learning means that the person does not have to make a clue for the other concept.  So the learner does not learn that both the foot is represented by the larger mark and the inch is represented by the smaller one.  Instead, when the learner encounters the symbols for inches or feet, he thinks that there is one long mark representing a foot or feet.  If the symbol is a single mark it is visualized as being long and therefore a foot.  If the symbol is not the single long mark, the symbol represents the smaller unit, inches. 


At a training session last week in Franklin County, Pennsylvania, Barb Kreyl, who teaches adults, said that she uses the two sounds in the word inches to enable students to remember which symbol to use.  This mnemonic clue will work for many students especially those who pay attention to the sounds in language.  When using this clue the learner needs to think in terms of singular and plural.  The word inches has two sounds but inch does not.  Both foot and feet has one sound therefore one mark.  As long as the student adds this extra concept, he or she will be able to use the sounds in the words as a memory clue for the symbols for inches and feet. 
     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