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8 Brain-Based Learning Strategies

4 Min Read
Teacher working one on one with student and tablet

The brain has a big job to do in the classroom. Taking in information, learning, remembering — the brain is working overtime to achieve tons each day. Brains are intricately connected to learning through both biological and chemical processes. What if we, as teachers, could plan activities tailored to how the brain functions and work with those natural brain functions?

Well, good news: It’s not only entirely possible, but there’s also a very decent chance that you’re already using brain-based learning strategies in your own classroom. Let’s explore a few examples and see how they’re linked to brain functions so that you can maximize the benefits for your students.

Brain-Based Learning Activities to Motivate Your Students

1. A splash of color

The human brain responds positively to visual stimulation. Art, images, and color help to engage the brain and solidify learning. An example of an art-based learning activity is having your younger students, who may be learning about genres of music, create art based on how certain pieces of music make them feel. Invite students to associate a color with sounds and feelings, effectively engaging the brain. An alternative example is using brightly colored diagrams in your high school classroom for a unit on anatomy and physiology. Incorporate visually stimulating materials to help those brains make lasting connections!

2. Timing is everything

Brains operate on cycles, known as ultradian rhythms. These cycles allow for set intervals of prime passive learning time — of about fifteen minutes in length, to be exact. Instead of carrying on for 45 minutes, a span of time during which students are likely to forget the things they learn, you should aim for shorter bursts of 15 minutes or less of learning. For example, if you have video material to share with your students, limit it to roughly five-to-10-minute clips and then pause to discuss what was just shown. Or, better yet, you can host a two-minute group or partner chats between video sections.

3. Active learning = active minds

Active learning is a good partner for the brain. Your students’ minds will be as actively engaged as they themselves are physically engaged during an active learning session. There are tons of examples of active learning, but an especially great one is role-playing. Have your students assume different roles when they’re learning about peer pressure or conflict (or really anytime at all!) to really cement the learning that is taking place, while positively engaging the brain.

4. Relaxing with music

Music and relaxation could really operate as separate points when considering brain function in learning, but we’ll blend them together here. A relaxed mind can better focus on the concepts being taught and take in information more effectively. Consider playing calm music quietly in the background during activities. For example, try classical music during silent reading time or during a quiz. You can also incorporate music into transition times as a way to move students from one activity to another, using music as a signal (and saving your voice at the same time!).

5. Subtle learning

The brain responds well to subtle, almost unnoticeable learning. Take your students for a walk around town or even just the school grounds or playground, and chat about the nature you encounter (types of trees, birds and insects, the kinds of clouds in the sky), or talk about the types of businesses you see and the way a town or city is set up. Students will be getting fresh air and exercise while subtly learning about their surroundings and tying that info to the topics you’re studying in class: weather, environmental issues, city planning, parts of a community, etc.

6. And I repeat …

Repetition can work for the brain when trying to memorize something. If you hear anything enough times, it should stick! (Make repetition a little more fun by using a familiar tune to help students remember facts, or use a singsong poem for learning to count by 5s, 10s, and so on.

7. The social brain

Brains thrive on social connections and experiences tied to emotions. Fire up the social-emotional parts of the brain by using activities that are perfect for fostering this side of learning. Have students work in small groups to perform a task, giving each person a specific role in the process. Or, have them draw roles from a hat or with popsicle sticks. Use whole-class chats at the start of the day to check in on each other and see what’s new. Help with the emotional part of the brain by teaching students how to find peace and interact positively with their peers. For example, you could have a quiet spot in your class for students who need a brain break or to teach students about conflict resolution. These initiatives will appeal to the social side of the brain and will have your students feeling happy and peaceful in their classroom environment.

8. A novel idea

Novelty is fantastic for the brain. To tap into this type of brain-based learning, break away from the norm once in a while and bust out a unique learning opportunity. Maybe have students perform five-minute skits of their favorite part of the book you’ve all been reading, or play a game, or have a math facts showdown. Have fun! You could even dedicate a Friday afternoon to a mystery lesson, where you teach students about something completely different. Look up fingerspelling in ASL and learn along with your students. Have students sing a classic song together, altering the tune or octaves to make it their own or replacing lyrics to make it specific to their own hometown, school, or generation.

Students Need to Experience Learning Through Fun and Variety!

Engaging the brain through brain-based learning activities will allow students to experience learning in exciting ways — possibly even revealing their most effective learning preferences. Now that’s using your head!

This article was adapted from a blog post initially developed by the education technology company Classcraft, which was acquired by HMH in 2023. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.


Find more lesson plans and classroom resources on Shaped.

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