How to Learn the 12 Cranial Nerves

Many anatomy classes  will require students to learn, in order, the twelve cranial nerves.   A quick internet search will reveal several mnemonic devices to learn them, though I tend to fall back on the one I used back in college, which sticks because it also rhymes:

“On Old Olympus Towering Top A Finn and German Viewed A Hop”

1. Olfactory 2. Optic 3. Oculomotor   4.Trochlear  5. Trigeminal  6. Abducens  7. Facial   8.  Auditory (Vestibulocochlear)  9. Glossopharyngeal  10. Vagus  11.  Accessory (Spinal)     12.  Hypoglossal

This coloring worksheet starts with a sheep brain model which can easily be colored because it is labeled, then follows up with a human brain that students must locate each nerve.  It is usually after students color it that they finally realize that they are numbered in order, from anterior to posterior of the brain.

Grade Level:  11-12  (Anatomy and Physiology Students)
Time Required:  20 minutes

We also dissect the sheep’s brain, and some of the nerves can be viewed on the specimen, the olfactory  and optic nerves are easy to locate.  If the dura mater is removed carefully, some students can even find the oculomotor nerves.

I do realize with many of these memory tasks, that students will likely forget them, but as I tell them, when we study the brain, that when you learn new things, you create new connections between neurons.  Each time to use that pathway, you strengthen those connections.  You’ll likely forget the names of the nerves, but when you see them again, perhaps in college, learning them the second time will be much easier.

One year, I asked my students if someone could illustrate the mnemonic for me.   Here is one students representation.  I found it interesting that he didn’t think of “Finn” as a nationality but as a fish, but hey, whatever works.

On Old Olympus Towering Top, A Finn and German Viewed a Hop; Illustration by Kegan Mouradian, class of 2012