Rote learning

Before the 11 plus our primary school classroom would be full of the sound of children’s voices chanting their times tables, and other important facts, such as length from inches up to miles, depths in fathoms, areas in hectares and acres, weights up to tons….but most of these facts are lost to me, partly I suppose because of decimalisation, negating the need to know in so much detail. I didn’t find rote learning a useful tool, quite often finding myself speaking the ‘Nine eights are…’ then mumbling the rest. I do know of course now know my most of my times tables and have strategies for checking my memory! What I remember from those classroom days are random things like the texture of the speckled paint, the smells, the anxieties, the friendship inconsistencies, the risk of having one’s head knocked sideways for not knowing the value of a minim….

I wonder if any of the Charioteers can remember the wordings for rest of these classroom chants…. this is to do with a poetry project I’m working on. Interweb searching has not yielded results!

And just to prettify the post, here is a picture.

Mist drops on Alchemilla mollis, (Lady’s Mantle


Eleven plus

Mr Vaughan presided.
The divided classroom looked strange, opened up,
and rearranged into lines: individual desks
so no one could look over anyone’s shoulder.

We sat alphabetically: I was a G.
It started with ‘turn your paper over’
ended with my last page incomplete
and a little gallop in my chest.

When the playground boasting began
I pushed the thing into a lidded box,
along with Dad’s crossness, worries that I would
somehow always disappoint and my inability to sing.

Weeks later, back in our twinned desks,
with scratched lids and holes for inkwells
I opened up my book, Anne of Green Gables
and read, waiting for the usual: registration

and a tirade of some sort.
I read until I became aware of laughing,
Mr Vaughan asking, had the bookworm
heard the results? I hadn’t.

When he told me, my question was
‘who else has passed too?’
and he read the list again. 11 out of 30
way above the National Average

of 10 or 11% he said, blowing his own trumpet
and I looked to my left to my best friend,
cleverer, prettier, I always thought
and she was smirking along with everyone else.

And now, was she thinking what I was thinking?
Maybe I had passed, but I was a fake, a fraud, a fluke
that had somehow been, squeezed in.


Author: Sarah

No time to lose. No, time to lose. Make time to stand and stare.... Did you see that?

34 thoughts on “Rote learning”

  1. Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain
    The Quick Brown Fox Jumps Over The Lazy Dog
    Every Good Boy Deserves Favour

    It all helps a lot until one mixes them up 🙂

  2. When setting up the balls on a snooker table, the Green, Brown and Yellow are positioned on their spots in the “D”

    But in which order?

    God bless you is a way to remember the correct placement as illustrated here…

    See? Green on the left, Brown in the middle and Yellow on the right 🙂

  3. I learnt by ‘rote’ – still don’t see that there is anything wrong with it… at least I knew my tables, poems and even chunks of Shakespeare!

    For those (like me) who wanted to know why the things I learnt by rote worked – well I just went away and worked it out. Those who were taught to do ‘multiplication’ by continuous adding they spent so much time on the basics they never moved on to anything much more.

    I was really heartened a few years back to read that those of us who were made to use our memories in that ‘awful’ process of rote leaning were less likely to lose our memories in later life… The idea being that one should ‘use it’ or ‘lose it’.

    I look at the whole process of learning by discovery and am reminded of my wonderful headmistress, who said, very sadly:

    “How cruel to expect children to rediscover the learning of centuries in a few years, when we can teach them..”

    The only mnemonic (other than those already mentioned) I can recall at this time of night is:



  4. I also learned a great deal by rote.

    20 pence is one and eight
    30 pence is two and six
    40 pence is three and four
    50 pence is four and two
    60 pence is 5 shillings
    70 pence is five and ten
    80 pence is six and eight
    90 pence is seven and six
    100 pence is eight and four.

    Not much good to me now, though.

    What has always been very useful is this poem that I believe should be required learning for all primary pupils:

    Three little words you often see
    Are ARTICLES: a, an, and the.

    A NOUN’s the name of anything,
    As: school or garden, toy, or swing.

    ADJECTIVES tell the kind of noun,
    As: great, small, pretty, white, or brown.

    VERBS tell of something being done:
    To read, write, count, sing, jump, or run.

    How things are done the ADVERBS tell,
    As: slowly, quickly, badly, well.

    CONJUNCTIONS join the words together,
    As: men and women, wind or weather.

    The PREPOSITION stands before
    A noun as: in or through a door.

    The INTERJECTION shows surprise
    As: Oh, how pretty! Ah! how wise!

    The whole are called the PARTS of SPEECH,
    Which reading, writing, speaking teach.

  5. thank you each!

    Boadicea: I didn’t mean there was anything wrong with rote learning, but that it didn’t work especially well for me…different brains retain information differently.

  6. and thinking on that further, I think it had something to do with the chanting that didn’t work, being completely out of tune with others in situations such as singing…

  7. I’m after those rote learning sayings that helped with distance miles, chains etc, area, and all the weight ones,

  8. The fact is that rote learning of simple things like multiplication tables makes life so much easier when you do not have to think what 7 x 6 is when adding up the price of a round in the pub after the government has added so much tax to a pint of beer (not yet, but not for long) that it costs £7 a pint. It helps even more after the third pint! 🙂

  9. I remember in English Literature I was once told to stand before the class and recite from the Rime of The Ancient Mariner. Our English teacher was one of those who still wore her university black gown and was so strict that we were all afraid of her.
    I was awful at English Lit. and began shakily with:-

    The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew, the ….and then I got stuck.

    The teacher was so involved in my recital that she tried to encourage me and said “f”

    I looked at her and had no clue so just mimicked “f”

    The whole class burst out laughing, I followed, until we were all in stiches.

    Granny Smith, as we called her, was so furious that she stormed out of the classroom to calm down.

    ……but I have never forgotten that piece of poetry since 🙂

  10. How about, ‘No Plan Like Yours To Study History Wisely’?


  11. I forget the one we used for planets, a quick google brought this one up …

    “My Very Easy Method Just Speeds Up Naming Planets”.

  12. There is a song that virtually all Japanese school children and many foreign students of the Japanese language learn called “帰るの歌” or “Kaeru-no-Uta” in the Roman Alphabet. The purpose of it is to help memorise different forms of Japanese verbs. While it sounds childish, Japanese verbs are conjugated according to different principles than Western languages. Each tense only has one way of conjugating a verb, but there are far, far more tenses in Japanese than in Indo-European languages. If that doesn’t confuse you, keep in mind that in Japanese adjectives are also conjugated. Here is a link to the song:

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