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Tips To Help Students Learn The Primary Trig Ratios

written by: Linda Hinkle • edited by: Trent Lorcher • updated: 8/2/2012

Most students like using mnemonics to help them remember things. Use this silly little jingle to help your students remember the primary trig ratios.

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    Remembering the Primary Trig Ratios

    Most math teachers are familiar with the classic mnemonic for remembering the order of operations—Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally. And if you’ve taught the primary trig ratios, or at least remember learning them, you’re probably familiar with SOHCAHTOA. Maybe you’ve even done something similar to what I did when some of my students had trouble remembering the letters. I had already tried “Oscar Had A Heap of Apples" and even though students remembered the jingle, they didn’t always remember which ratio went with which part of the jingle. So, I made a jingle out of SOHCAHTOA—it became “Sarah’s Only Horse Called Another Horse To Outside Acres."

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    Horses, Rabbits, and Xylophones

    The jingle worked pretty well, and students began to refer to it as “the horse thing." When test time rolled around, some student would invariably ask as I passed out the exams “Ms. Hinkle, can we write the horse thing on our test paper?"

    As time wore on and students got deeper into the study of trigonometry, they had to learn the primary trig ratios using the unit circle. The sin ratio became y/r, cos x/r, and tan y/x. One day a student asked if I had “one of those little horse sayings" to use for these ratios. I replied that I didn’t, but that I would try to come up with one. I had to be creative—finding suitable words that start with the letter “x" wasn’t easy. Here’s what I finally came up with:

    Silly Yellow Rabbits

    Caused Xanadu Rabbits

    To Yell Xylophone!

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    Be Creative

    Students loved it. We chuckled over its silliness. Maybe it helped them with their primary trig ratios, I’m not really sure. I do know it gave them reassurance that I would reach down deep and go the extra mile to find tools to help them learn. That’s important to students.

    I’m not suggesting you use my silly little jingle with your students, although you’re certainly welcome to! I am suggesting that you break out of the mold, be creative, and let your students see your commitment to finding what works for them.