Keyword Method

Of all the mnemonic strategies, the keyword method is the most researched, and it is proven to be highly effective for students with disabilities. Additionally, the method is perhaps the most flexible and can be used in a variety of content areas because it assists students in recalling information by making an association between two pieces of information (e.g., English and foreign language vocabulary; scientific terms and classification; people, places, and events in social studies or history; states and capitals; main ideas in content-area reading). The keyword method consists of three steps.

 Implementing the Keyword Method
Step Action/ Explanation Example
Step 1: Recoding The teacher selects a keyword, a familiar word that sounds similar to the vocabulary word or term the student must learn. This word needs to be concrete so that the student can easily picture it. Vocabulary word: scow


Definition: a large flat-bottomed boat with broad square ends used chiefly for transporting sand, gravel, or refuse 

Keyword: cow

Step 2: Relating The teacher must relate the keyword to the new information. This is typically done using an image that shows the keyword interacting with the information to be recalled. It is critical that the keyword interact with the information to be recalled because it is through this interaction that the student establishes a retrieval path or way to recall the needed information. Image of a cow sitting on a pile of sand in a flat-bottomed boat with square ends

Step 3: Retrieving The student must be able to retrieve the information when needed. To do this, the teacher often needs to teach the student a retrieval path and have the student practice it several times. Retrieval path:

  1. When presented with “scow,” think of your keyword “cow.”
  2. Remember the picture of the cow sitting in the boat filled with sand.
  3. This will help you remember that “scow” means “a large flat-bottomed boat with broad square ends used chiefly for transporting sand, gravel, or refuse.”


It is beneficial for teachers to provide the keyword and the related image to students with learning disabilities. These students tend to have greater recall of information when the relationship is provided instead of when they are asked to create that relationship on their own. Additionally, it is generally more efficient for the teacher to provide the image and the associated link to the information being learned rather than asking the student to spend the time doing so.

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