Geography Mnemonics to Help Learn About the Great Lakes

Caitlin Dempsey

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The Great Lakes are five lakes that form a single, naturally interconnected body of fresh water.  Located in the upper mid-east region of North America along the United States-Canada border, the Great Lakes are the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth, holding 21% of the world’s fresh water by volume.

There are five lakes belonging to the Great Lakes basin: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior.  Of these five, only Lake Michigan is fully within the United States.  The remaining four, Lakes Huron, Ontario, Erie, Superior are bisected by the international border separating the United States and Canada.

Shaded relief map showing the Great Lakes in blue and the surrounding areas in shades of green and yellow.
The five lakes that make up the Great Lakes. Map: Caitlin Dempsey.

How do mnemonics help with memorization?

Mnemonics are memory aids that help in learning and recalling information. They often involve simple associations of easy-to-remember constructs, like phrases, songs, or acronyms, that are linked to the data one needs to remember. For example, in geography, a mnemonic can help memorize the names of the Great Lakes by associating each lake’s initial letter with a word in a memorable phrase. This technique leverages the human brain’s preference for pattern and association, making it easier to recall complex or unfamiliar information.

Mnemonic to Memorize the Names of the Great Lakes

To learn the names of the Great Lakes, the acronym HOMES can be used with each letter representing the name of a Great Lake: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior.


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Shaded relief map showing the Great Lakes in blue and the surrounding areas in shades of green and yellow with the mnemonic "HOMES" in bold black letters.
“HOMES” is a mnemonic to help geography students memorize the five Great Lakes. Map: Caitlin Dempsey.

Geographic Spread of the Great Lakes Mnemonic

To remember the order geographically that the lakes occur traveling from west to east, learn this phrase: Super Man Helps Every One (Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, Ontario).

Shaded relief map showing the Great Lakes in blue and the surrounding areas in shades of green and yellow with the mnemonic "SMHEO" in bold black letters.
Mnemonics can help with memorizing the spread of the Great Lakes from west to east. Map: Caitlin Dempsey.

The Great Lakes span a vast geographic area from west to east in North America. Starting in the west, Lake Superior borders Minnesota and Canada, being the most western and northern of the lakes. Moving eastward, Lake Michigan lies entirely within the United States, bordered by states like Wisconsin and Michigan. Further east, Lake Huron, connected to Lake Michigan by the Straits of Mackinac, also borders Canada. Lake Erie, the smallest by volume, lies to the south of Huron. Finally, Lake Ontario, the easternmost lake, serves as a natural boundary between the United States and Canada.

Order of Great Lakes According to Size Mnemonic

The mnemonic to remember the lakes in descending order according to surface area is: Super Heroes Must Eat Oats (Superior, Huron, Michigan, Erie, Ontario).

Shaded relief map showing the Great Lakes in blue and the surrounding areas in shades of green and yellow with the mnemonic "SHMEO" in bold black letters.
Mnemonics can help with memorizing the spread of the Great Lakes from largest to smallest. Map: Caitlin Dempsey.

The order of Great Lakes by size:

  • Lake Superior: Size: 31,700 sq mi (82,100 km²); Perimeter: 2,726 mi (4,387 km); Volume: 2,900 cubic mi (12,100 km³).
  • Lake Michigan: Size: 22,400 sq mi (58,000 km²); Perimeter: 1,638 mi (2,633 km); Volume: 1,180 cubic mi (4,918 km³).
  • Lake Huron: Size: 23,000 sq mi (59,600 km²); Perimeter: 3,827 mi (6,157 km); Volume: 850 cubic mi (3,540 km³).
  • Lake Erie: Size: 9,910 sq mi (25,700 km²); Perimeter: 871 mi (1,402 km); Volume: 116 cubic mi (484 km³).
  • Lake Ontario: Size: 7,340 sq mi (19,000 km²); Perimeter: 712 mi (1,146 km); Volume: 393 cubic mi (1,640 km³).

Great Lakes Mnemonics Video

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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.