How to Memorize all 50 States, their Locations, and their Capitals in One Hour


U.S. geography might be one of my favorite things to learn about, since it seems so immediately useful. When our family is studying our own country, I never have to answer the question, "Why do I have to leeeearn this?" It makes sense to the kids that we ought to know the names of the places we can actually visit--places in our nation which compiled together make up our American culture.

So why is it still hard to remember all the states and capitals? Does it surprise you at all that most Americans can't name them all?

A few years ago, when I first taught U.S. geography to my oldest, I scoured the internet in search of a memory technique that would help us remember all the states, their capitals, AND their locations. But it seemed such a thing had never been made!

Of course, there are wonderful mnemonics for memorizing which states go with which capitals. Simply google "States and Capitals Song" and choose your favorite, or take a quick spin through the hilarious book, Yo Sacramento!

But none of these tools I found helped us to link the state's name to its location on the map. So I decided to make one. I have since used this with my oldest three kids, and several years' worth of 5th and 6th grade classes.

Along the way, you'll meet a set of triplets whose names all begin with I. You'll meet their cousin and their older brother, as well. You'll be the guest of honor at a Colombian rally, and giggle as two old ladies find themselves attached--by chewing gum! Memory "athletes" like Joshua Foer say that the sillier/crazier/funnier a mental image is, the more likely we are to remember it. So I've made up some silly stories for you to ponder as you do your best to draw some of the characters.


Here's what you'll need:


1) A basic familiarity with the state and capital names

You don't have to know which ones go together. And you don't have to know where these places are--you just have to recognize that Tallahassee is a place. You might also know that Miami is a place, and you might not know which is a capital, but at least you can pronounce the words. If you're an American adult, you already know intuitively that it's "Florida," not "Flopowillow." 

However, if you're hearing these words for your first time, and you have to learn the names themselves, this will take a little longer. If that's you, (or you're teaching this to a young child) I recommend searching youtube to find your favorite State Capitals song. I like this one, and my kids like this rap, or there's this classic catchy tune by the Animaniacs! If you're part of Classical Conversations, the state capitals song they've created is ideal because it goes in the same east-to-west order we learn them in Cycle 3. 

Once you're familiar with the names of the states and capitals, you're ready for this exercise. Let's memorize where all these places are!

2) A blank map of the U.S.

A quick google search will turn up plenty of options, or just download and print this one:

3) Colored pencils, or any fine-tipped coloring utensils

I've done this exercise a number of times now, and I love colored pencils. It's important to remember that these sketches are just for you, so as long as you know what they are, they'll work. Even so, I'm a perfectionist and I like being able to control the boldness of my colors. Of all the colored pencil brands we've accumulated over the years, my favorites are my Prismacolor Colored Pencils. Their color is brightest and the cores don't break easily, which make them last the longest.

4) About an hour of undivided attention.

Once you have those first 3 things, you're ready to go! Grab your favorite beverage and get cozy. Think of this like those adult coloring books that are meant for stress relief. Just take your time drawing each image and saying the quote out loud over and over while you draw. Remember that the images are meant to be silly, so have fun!




Here it is! The list of how to memorize all 50 states, their capitals, and their locations:


Augusta, Maine
“Maine is the main place to go in August.” 
Draw a sun off the coast of Maine:


Concord, New Hampshire
Looks like an upsidedown bunch of Concord grapes, OR a lowercase “h” for Hampshire. 
Draw a lowercase h surrounded by grapes:


Boston, Massachusetts
Bossy massive muscles.” 
Outline the peninsula drawing a bulging muscle:


Providence, Rhode Island
“This little island can provide for itself.” 
Draw a single dot, like an island, or the dot of a lowercase “i”:


Hartford, Connecticut
“Rhode Island isn't an island at all; its heart is connected to Connecticut.” 
Draw a heart nestled in the southwest corner:


Montpelier, Vermont
Mount vs. Mount, “Mont ver mont.” 
Draw a giant V:


Albany, New York
Albino York” 
Draw a white (outlined) Y:


Trenton, New Jersey
Trench Jersey” Looks like a J that fell in a trench. 
Draw a squished J:


Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
Hairy Pencil.” Eastern border looks like a P. 
Draw a P aligned all the way to the right, with long hair flowing to the left:


Dover, Delaware
Dell Dove out of an airplane.” 
Draw a flattened D, as if it dove out of a plane and went kersplat:


Annapolis, Maryland
Anna’s merry land” Looks like a sloppy M. 
Draw a sloppy M with left leg slanted out to the west:


Richmond, Virginia
Rich Mama Virginia” Looks like a mound of riches. 
Outline border and draw speckles like glittering gold:


Charleston, West Virginia
“Virginia is holding her son, Charles, the wittle Virginia.” 
Draw baby Charlie cuddled in the mound of riches.


Raleigh, North Carolina
The western border of the Carolinas, when they're together, form a C. 
Outline western border to look like a C. Inside the C the carolers are holding a Colombian Rally
Draw a second C for Columbus on South Carolina:


Columbia, South Carolina

"The carolers are holding a Colombian Rally " (See previous.)
Draw the c holding a flag for Raleigh on North Carolina:


Atlanta, Georgia
Aunt Georgia” and “Mrs. Jackson” are stuck together by their bums with chewing gum. “Gummy bum.” But the floor they’re standing on is Magnificent. 
Acronym: M.A.G.nificent FLoor. (Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida)
Draw Aunt George:


Tallahassee, Florida
Tall Floor” North border of Florida is the MAGnificent floor on which the two ladies are in their predicament. You’ll notice this floor is very tall.
Draw the floor beams:


Montgomery, Alabama
Gummy bumma” (See Georgia.)
Draw the gum:


Jackson, Mississippi
Mrs. Jackson” (See Georgia)
Draw Mrs. Jackson:


Baton Rouge, Louisiana
“Is it a bat? Is it an L?” 
Draw an L with flared points to look like a bat:


Lansing, Michigan
Lancing mitten” Looks like a mitten throwing a lance. 
Draw a mitten and a lance:


Columbus, Ohio
Columbus, (whose arm is in the mitten above,) says "Oh hi!"
Draw a happy face and a triangle hat on Ohio with a speech bubble saying “Oh, hi!”:


Indianapolis, Indiana
There are three annoying triplets whose names all begin with “I.”  
The triplets have a little sister named Deanna, and if you asking them anything, they'll answer 
I wasn't annoying Deanna!” (Iowa-Illinois-Indiana)
Draw an “I” on each: Iowa, Illinois, Indiana.

Indiana says: “Pull this, Deanna!” 
Draw a lever like an antique lightswitch:


Frankfort, Kentucky
“A frank-ford competes in the Kentucky Derby.” Talk about Kentucky Derby.
Outline Kentucky (it looks like a race car) and draw a hot dog on it:


Nashville, Tennessee
Looks like a stage. Talk about Music City.
Draw a stage:


Madison, Wisconsin
Mad cousin” Review the triplets (see Indiana.) These 3 triplets make their cousin mad. 
The northwest border looks like the profile of a face. 
Draw a mouth and an angry eyebrow:


Springfield, Illinois
One of the triplets. (See Indiana.) The noisiest triplet wears her hair to look like a spring
Draw her hair:


Des Moines, Iowa
One of the triplets. (See Indiana.) Iowa says: “Das Mine! I WAsn’t done!” 
Draw a fist protruding from eastern border. ( “Das mine!” “I wasn’t annoying Deanna!”)


Jefferson City, Missouri
Jeff is miserable.” Review the triplets (see Indiana.) The triplets make their older brother, Jeff, miserable. You can see his nose sticking out of the north-east border. He also has a goatee. 
Outline eastern border and draw his face:


Little Rock, Arkansas
“The Ark lands on a little rock.” After floating down the Mississippi River, the ark lands on a little rock. 
Draw an ark on a rock:


St. Paul, Minnesota
St. Paul’s soda” Looks like a stein of soda. 
Outline the glass and draw suds on the top for the foam. 
Draw a cross to remember this one is St Paul’s:


Bismarck, North Dakota
“The businessman Dakota” The taller of the Dakota brothers is a businessman. 
Draw a tie:


Pierre, South Dakota
“The peering Dakota” The shorter of the Dakota brothers is nosey. Always peering everywhere. 
Draw two large eyes:


Cheyenne, Wyoming
Why is Shy Anne shy?” 
Draw Shy Anne in the left corner, hiding from South Dakota’s peering:


Lincoln, Nebraska
Lincoln with knees of brass” There’s a Lincoln statue with brass knees sitting on a Colorado ski lift. (The idea for NE and KS came from Mrs. Mills)
Do your best to draw him sitting on the northeast corner of Colorado:


Topeka, Kansas
Toe peek outta a can” Lincoln’s feet are dangling and a can got stuck on one of his feet. His toe is peeking out of the can. 
Draw this toe-peek-a-can:


Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Oak sizzles in an oak frying pan.” Looks like a frying pan. 
Color in the handle, which is made of oak:


Austin, Texas
Awesome Texas” Looks like a huge t. 
(Also, everything’s so big in Texas, it’s easy to get lost in. "Lostin Austin".)
Draw a large lowercase t:


Denver, Colorado
At the four corners, U CAN stand in four states at once. 
Label four states; U.C.A.N (Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico)

“Hide in the Den to get out of the cold.”
Draw a den out of the C:


Santa Fe, New Mexico
U CAN (See Colorado)
Santa has faith he’ll get to Mexico on time.”
Draw santa’s sleigh sledding down the slope of the N:


Salt Lake City, Utah
U CAN (See Colorado)
“So salty U float!”
Draw water in the U:


Phoenix, Arizona
U CAN (See Colorado)
“The Phoenix Arises.”
Draw the A as the Phoenix’s tail:


Carson City, Nevada
California drew their state line to call dibs on all the beach, then it laughed and said, “Take yo cars-and NEVA come back.” 
Draw a sad car leaving California:


Sacramento, California
California has “sacred” missions all along its coast. 
Draw the Mission in the shape of a large C:


Honolulu, Hawaii
“Get some honey love in Hawaii.” 
Draw a Y made out of honey:


Helena, Montana
“This Mountain. He leans.” Montana it a mountain of a state! 
Draw a leaning mountain:


Boise, Idaho
Boys, I need you to hoe.” Looks like a hoe.
Draw a hoe:


Olympia, Washington
Limping washing machine” Looks like a washing machine with its door open into the Pacific Ocean. But it’s missing a leg, so it limps.
Draw a washing machine:


Salem, Oregon
“Where has Ori gone?” He’s sailing to Alaska! 
Draw sailboat off coast of Oregon:


Juneau, Alaska
Ju know Alaska is the Lasta state? Ju know we are done now?” 
Draw a check mark for a job well done!

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Did you find this helpful? What are some other techniques you have used to memorize lists?

Drop some feedback in the comments below!

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