Last year, I walked into my classroom and found this pink, painted… thing… sitting on my desk. I remember staring at it for a few seconds. “What is it?!” After eight years of teaching, this was definitely a first for me. So, I said what any 1st grade teacher would say when given an unrecognizable object from a child: “This is absolutely fabulous! Tell me about it!” The little girl placed the object in my hand, and said to me, “This is my brain. I painted it for you, so that you will never forget all of my dendrites.”
I can remember trying to hold back tears of happiness as I hugged her tightly and thanked her for what quickly became one of my most prized possessions. All year, I had worked hard to teach my seven-year-olds how their brains worked. We learned about how to “grow and strengthen our dendrites” in hopes that they would feel empowered with knowing how and why learning happens. I wanted them to realize how amazing and powerful learning was, and how they were in control of the greatest ‘school supply’ they will ever own — their brain!
Throughout the year, a shift happened in my classroom and in my teaching philosophy. I started to devour research books about the human brain. As I learned about how the brain takes in and processes information, I began to evaluate the curriculum I was using and creating for my students. I now ask myself an important question as I sit down to plan my lessons: Is it brain- friendly?
I started creating products on Teachers Pay Teachers because my curriculum lacked the creativity that I so desired for my kids. While there was nothing wrong with being handed a scripted math or basal reading curriculum, I found myself craving learning activities that were more motivating and engaging for my students. I longed to be able to fill in the gaps with material that catered to the way my students accessed information, rather than always trying to fit my students’ imaginations into a boxed program. I started to focus on getting my kids to think “outside of the box.” As a result, my little Teachers Pay Teachers store, Miss DeCarbo, was created, and “brain-friendly” materials started to fall into the hands of my little ones. So, today, I am bringing you my top four tips for a brain-friendly classroom. Here we go!
Why do we use counters, cubes, and other manipulatives in our math lessons? It makes concepts such as addition and multiplication concrete for our students. Don’t be scared to bring everyday objects into your classroom to help students better understand how reading and writing strategies work, too. Try experimenting with eggs as you discover the true meaning of cause and effect. Use a piece of sticky tack or bubblegum as you stretch out the details of a story. Concrete lessons provide the brain with a visual and tactile experience to “hold onto” while processing and retrieving information.
Did you know about 65% of people are visual learners? As educators, this statistic is important to the way we present information to our students. I love using the concept of color coding with my students. It provides students with a very clear way of identifying, sorting, and classifying information. My Text Evidence Reading Passages and Strategy Series Reading Passages are set up for brain-friendly learning by using crayons to cite and sort details and information. For example, the kids use red and blue crayons to go back into the story and color code the differences and similarities as they learn how to compare and contrast characters and events. My new Tap It Out Series provides students with a visual aid as they decode words using tap-on battery lights. When designing brain-friendly lesson plans for your classroom, think about your use of color, font clarity, and format. For many struggling learners, a simple, uncluttered format is best.
While studying brain-based learning, I discovered the power of pre-exposure for our students. Students will make more connections and retain more information if they are pre-exposed to content BEFORE we directly teach it. Our students are not born knowing how to think critically — we have to teach them how to do this. My See Think Wonder Write pack fosters genuine thinking skills by having students write about a photograph that is connected to a current science or social studies topic. Students write what they see, think, and wonder about a photograph in order to activate schema, make connections, and develop crucial critical thinking skills. While you are designing your brain-based classroom, think about pre-exposing students to new content and information before the unit begins. Your students will be more likely to make connections and feel successful in their questioning and discussion skills when they’ve had time to think about the topic before you formally begin teaching a unit.
Many times, we look for and design interesting activities and lessons. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines interesting as “holding the attention.” It’s important to note that while an interesting activity can seem exciting and fun for those 20 minutes of learning, interesting can be fleeting without meaning. Learning that is relevant is learning that truly empowers our students. Students must be able to see and understand how each learning topic connects to their own lives. My Force and Motion unit teaches the concepts of push and pull by using the playground and children’s toys to show students how these forces work. While an experiment with all the bells and whistles would have been interesting and exciting for my kids, learning about why they are able to pull themselves up a jungle gym or go down a slide is extremely relevant to them — it’s something they do every day at recess. This type of relevant activity combines classroom learning with real-world learning. When designing brain-friendly lessons, remember to take the time to make learning relevant. When learning becomes relevant to students, they become genuinely interested because the content truly matters to them!
Teachers Pay Teachers has certainly played a giant role in helping me to revise and rethink the way I teach and use curriculum in my classroom. As a Seller and a Buyer, TpT has stretched my creativity and pushed me to create products that cater to students’ strengths, needs, and learning modalities. I know I can always find products that are created by teachers who have our students’ brains in mind.
On a personal note, TpT enables me to meet my students’ needs quickly so that I can spend quality time with my family — which, by the way, is GROWING! My husband and I are expecting our first little one this April. We are so thrilled for this new chapter in our lives, and we look forward to sharing it with you.
Thank you so much for joining me today to read these easy tips for a brain-friendly classroom. I feel so honored to be able to share my passion for teaching with you, and wish you a fantastic, “brain-friendly” school year with your students!