Virginia’s New Hamster:

A Thirteen States Mnemonic

Nancy L. Gallenstein

Rote memory will always be a part of learning history, but it doesn’t always have to be boring. When learning information by rote, specific memory strategies can be applied, like using first-letters to create a phrase or sentence; using key- or link-words to recall definitions or terms; and making cartoons, images, or fantastic and ridiculous stories.

The mnemonic on the next page assists students in memorizing the original thirteen states with the use of a humorous story. It also introduces them to the term mnemonic, a memory aid, and challenges them to think creatively about rote memory tasks. These steps could be followed if a teacher wished to use the mnemonic as an activity for the whole class:

1. After studying some of the basic history of the thirteen original states, ask students (without warning) to list the states they can remember off the top of their head on a sheet of paper.

2. At the bottom of their paper, ask students to list the total number of states they are able to recall.

3. Read aloud the story “Remembering The Original Thirteen States.”

4. Place a transparency of the story and its associated word list on an overhead projector, and let students check their list of states with the overhead list of states and associated words. They should write down any states that they were not able to remember earlier.

5. Provide students with copies of the story and ask them to underline the word-state associations in it.

6. Allow students to discuss the story (placing a map of the original thirteen states on the overhead while they talk).

7. Ask for a volunteer to read the story again from his or her desk. Would any child like to attempt to do it (already!) from memory?

8. Finally, with the desks cleared and the overhead turned off, ask the students to again write down as many of the original thirteen states as they can remember.

9. Invite students to compare their second list of states with the first list and determine if their memory improved.

10. Define the word mnemonic for the students, and (as an extension activity) invite them to invent new ones as the semester progresses. Encourage them to publish their creative mnemonics in a class or school newsletter.


About the Author

Nancy Gallenstein is an assistant professor in the School of Education at the University of South Carolina in Spartenburg.


Remembering the Original Thirteen States



Nancy L. Gallenstein

Once upon a time, there lived a little girl named Virginia. Her father, George, bought her a new hamster and a little cage, with the name “Carolina” penciled vainly on the door. One day, the new hamster slid down the massive chute in its cage, zipped through the open door, and scurried right out the window. The latch was not connected. Her father said, “Hurry, Virginia! Put on your new jersey, the one Della used to wear!” They jumped into their New Yorker and rode around the island, with Virginia leaning out the window, calling to the north, “Carolina!” and to the south, “Carolina!” Suddenly they saw the critter scampering in the headlights. They picked up the happy wanderer, and their laughter rang out over the merry land.



Associations, in the order that they appear, are


1. Virginia – Virginia

2. George – Georgia

3. New hamster – New Hampshire

4. Penciled vainly – Pennsylvania

5. Massive chute – Massachusetts

6. Connected – Connecticut

7. New jersey – New Jersey

8. Della used to wear – Delaware

9. New Yorker – New York

10. Rode around the island – Rhode Island

11. North “Carolina” – North Carolina

12. South “Carolina” – South Carolina

13. Merry land – Maryland



The Adventures of Virginia’s New Hamster

by Jessica Dinh, 7th Grade

Shady Grove Middle School

Gaithersburg, Maryland



The Original Thirteen States of 1776







New Hampshire

New Jersey

New York

North Carolina


Rhode Island

South Carolina