To work out your animal based on your birth year, take your birth year and continue to add 12 until the number is between 2008 and 2019. For example if you were born in 1972, keep adding 12 and you will get 1984, 1996, then 2008. Therefore you were born in the Year of the Rat.
Asking someone for their animal sign is a useful method for deducing a person's age (to the nearest multiple of 12). Chinese people often ask others for their animal sign to deduce who is the older among friends and acquaintances.
A story could be created linking the animals together, starting in 2008. In Chinese culture, 8 is a lucky number so maybe a large pot of gold could be associated with the Rat, Dragon and Monkey since their years are multiples of 12. Converting a year to an animal would require recalling the sequence and counting the steps to find the year.
2008 Rat ivy
2009 Ox bee
2010 Tiger toes
2011 Rabbit tot (baby)
2015 Goat towel
2016 Monkey tissue
2017 Rooster tack
2018 Dog dove
2019 Pig tap
Since all of the years are in the 21st century I only need to use the last two digits of the year to create a peg word.
The number 8 is lucky in Chinese tradition and a good way to remember the start year for the animal sequence. Because the information being memorised is Chinese I have added the colour red to the imagery of my associations.
2008 ivy Rat - a rat is climbing up a red ivy plant. The ivy is entwined in the rat' stail.
2009 bee - Ox - a giant red bee is swooping down on to the ox and stinging him on the behind.
2010 toes - Tiger - large red toes are walking quietly in the jungle. The toes belong to a tiger.
2011 tot - Rabbit - a red baby is cuddling a large soft toy rabbit
2012 ton - Dragon - a red one ton weight is being blasted by the flames from a dragon's mouth
2013 dam - Snake - a giant red snake is slithering up a river valley towards the dam
2014 tyre - Horse - a large red tyre is hanging around the horse's neck
2015 towel - Goat - a red goat is chewing a large red towel, ripping it to shreds
2016 tissue - Monkey - a monkey is blowing his nose with a large red tissue
2017 tack - Rooster - a rooster has large red tacks instead of claws, as well as a red tack protruding from his beak.
2018 dove - Dog - a dog is chasing a flock of red doves, and attempting to catch one of the birds.
2019 tap -Pig - a large red tap has been turned on and a thick sludge comes out into a trough for a pig.
Let's see the system in action for someone born in 1988. What is her Chinese sign? Adding 12 gives 2000. Adding 12 again gives 2012. This is greater than 2008, and the key image is a red TON, which is being blasted by a dragon. This person was born in the Year of the Dragon.