Teaching Palace of Memory

I’ve been trying to refine and rethink how I teach “Palace of Memory” technique.  It’s clear, looking at some recent quizzes, that I race through it far too fast to suit some students; I teach the technique, but I don’t script it very well… and I try to cram it into a couple of lessons, instead of allowing it the time it deserves.

Accordingly, I’ve both scaled back expectations and redesigned the program a little.  First, I give a quiz (as I did today to my seventh graders) to plant the idea that rote memorization is hard. I follow that up with a discussion of the hippocampus (as I did today after the quiz), noting its three core powers:

  1. Where you are
  2. adding and retrieving items to and from short-term memory
  3. adding and retrieving items to and from long-term memory

But, of course, this means that the hippocampus does not process sense-memories at all.  THAT’S HUGE.  It means that when you imagine yourself somewhere else, you really ARE somewhere else, for the purposes of memorizing things, or recalling them.  (It’s why I woke up this morning dreaming that I was reciting part of the Orphic Hymn to Jupiter, swimming up through my consciousness, in my meditation room…) How bizarre.  How wonder-ful.  It also means that you can store memories consciously in places in your own house.

(My supermusical kid in class made up a song to remember his New England dates.  My super-kinesthetic kid made up a dance. We’ll see how this works out…)

So thinking about this in slightly slower fashion (and remembering this morning’s lesson to slow down), I’m splitting my Ars Memorativa training into a few different blocks:

  1. Showing that you can imagine yourself walking through your kitchen (Lesson 1)
    1. Imagine yourself storing a timeline in specific places in your kitchen (class)
    2. Storing that timeline of dates/events in one’s kitchen (class)
    3. Connecting that timeline with a specific series of images or pictures (homework)
  2. Showing that you can store information in specific places in your house (lesson 2)
    1. re-taking a quiz connected with rote memorization, after storing a timeline using Palace of Memory (class)
    2. developing a line or a pathway through the house to specific locations, and planting specific images there (homework)
  3. And so on.

I don’t want to give up the whole system at once.  I also haven’t thought through the whole system yet.  But it’s clear that I have to break it down into a larger number of steps, with some practice in the physical space, and some in the imagined space.  Whether they’ll ever be able to get to the Akashic Library this way, I don’t know.  But it is a powerful way to store memories, and particularly things to be memorized.


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One comment

  1. I found it hugely helpful when you posted a sketch of the Palace. I couldn’t follow the layout easily from the script, though I might have done better if I’d heard it instead of read it. I’d need the sketch oriented so North was up/ahead of me.

    I wonder what would happen if I re-sketched a map of a room or shelf in the palace after putting new things in it, or if I put post-its in my physical house to reflect its memory contents. French adjectives, baking cupboard, to the right of the nutmeg.

    On another note, very interesting that your students are engaging other senses. I find it easy to remember things like my library card number, which has 14 digits, if I make up a little tune.

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