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:

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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