Brain Rules in the Classroom: Part 3

Much of what young children do as play - singing, drawing, dancing - are natural forms of art. These activities engage all the senses and help wire the brain for successful learning.
— David Sousa, How the Brain Learns

Over the past two months, the Infinite Horizons newsletter has focused on taking a close look at John Medina’s Brain Rules and applying this learning to our work as teachers. Acquiring knowledge about how brains work has helped us understand our role as learning facilitators and coaches. This month we will discuss 3 more brain rules and finish up with the last 3 brain rules next month.  (Missed Part 1 or Part 2? You can read them here) 

This Month’s Brain Rules

Brain Rule # 5: Repeat to remember. (Short-term memory)
We forget most of what we hear – even if we understand the information at the time it’s presented. In fact, 90 percent of new information vanishes from our memories within 30 days after hearing it– with most of the forgetting happening just hours after the lesson. Why does that happen?

It all comes down to what happens during the first few seconds after learning something new. What we do with that information determines whether or not we will create memories that stick or ones that will quickly fade away. If certain types of information aren’t repeated within thirty seconds, they fade. If they are repeated, they then go into working memory where they stay for an hour or so. If the information is not repeated again during that time span, it will fade. The critical component of making new memories is the space between repetitions. 

What does this mean in our classrooms?

In order to help our students develop lasting memories, we need to intentionally and transparently create opportunities for repetition of critical information. Students should interact with the material they are learning within the first 30 seconds after hearing the information. They can achieve this with strategies such as: 

  • choral chanting 
  • clapping and repeating key phrases to a beat
  • turn and talks with their partners

Then we need to make sure students interact with the same crucial information as soon and as often as possible to keep it in their working memory. This can be accomplished during group work, partner work, or independent work. In other words, they need smaller chunks of learning from us, with more time to chew on and repeat the ideas themselves.We need to continuously find ways to repeat pertinent information to keep it fresh in the students’ minds. If the brain does not receive repeated signals that the information is important, the neural connections whither and the information is lost from our memories.

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.
— Benjamin Franklin

 Some opportunities to include repetition over time are:

  • Bell work/do now/entry tickets: The beginning of class is a great time to review, repeat, recall, remember.
  • Homework with review items
  • *Students should also understand how and why repetition is beneficial to their learning. When we are transparent with our students about the importance of repetition in memory creation, they will be more open to the repetition as well as have the ability to use this strategy when studying on their own in the future. 

Brain Rule #6: Remember to repeat.  (Long-term memory)
Interestingly enough, the more complex we make a concept, the more likely we are to remember it. If we associate words with elaborate stories, they are much more likely to stick. For example: If you have just learned someone’s name, you’ll have a better chance of remembering it if you repeat it just after they say it and then find something to relate it to. Let’s say I just met Loraine. I can remember her name because she’s wearing a blouse that is by Ralph Lauren – which almost sounds like Loraine – or maybe my friend’s mother’s name is Loraine, and she also has brown hair. The more connections you make with the word or idea, the more likely you are to remember it. 

What does this mean in our classrooms?

We need to encourage our students to create complex webs of information to help them internalize new information. They can do this in several ways:

Vocabulary Journals help students think about new words in a variety of ways. They draw a picture, write a sentence, write antonyms, etc…Their understanding of the word becomes much more complex through filling out these journals. 
Mnemonics – Create rhymes or funny ways to remember key concepts such as ROY G. BIV to remember the colors of the spectrum: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet. Here’s a great website to give you ideas for using mneumonics in all learning modalities.
Creating stories with key concepts – Have students tell their partner a story with the concepts that they just learned to help them remember the meaning of the word or concept by association. 
CUKAN Lesson planning – Using the CUKAN planner helps teachers start to create a web of understanding as to why a concept is being studied and how the students are expected to show mastery.  (Our books clearly lay out how to use this template, and you can download the template itself for free.) 
Link information – Whenever possible, link new information to concepts that students already know. That will not only create a more complex web but also serve as a reminder of the previously learned information. Graphic organizers are a great way to link new ideas to previous ideas. 
Brain Rule  #9: Stimulate more of the senses.

Our senses evolved to work together - vision influencing hearing, for example - which means that we learn best if we stimulate several senses at once.
— John Medina - Brain Rules

Most people remember their first kiss for their entire life. Why is that? This memory is so strong, because all 5 senses were being stimulated simultaneously to create an unforgettable experience. The same principle is true in all types of memory creation. The more senses we involve in learning, the more our brain will be able to hold onto important information. 

What does this mean in our classrooms?

Since students in multisensory environments always do better than those in unisensory environments, it’s important to find ways to incorporate more senses into our lessons.

  • Use visuals: PowerPoints, graphs, charts, maps, photographs, etc
  • Make it real: Whenever possible, bring in realia (the actual object) so that students can see, hear, touch, and maybe even taste the object of focus.
  • Music: Create songs to help remember concepts. Play the same song when students are working to help their brains associate that song with focus.     
  • Clay: Have students create 3D depictions of concepts discussed in class.
  • Use manipulatives or hands-on materials whenever possible
  • Partner work allows students opportunities to listen and speak about topics.
  • Check out our book, Differentiation for Real Classrooms, on our product page to find more ideas on how to involve multiple modalities in all of your lessons. You can also find student surveys on our website so students can self-assess their own learning preferences.  


As you are adapting your lessons with this new brain science in mind, make sure to intentionally and transparently share the science with your students as well. Our students should always understand why we have them do these things and how it helps them learn. For this month's issue, Infinite Horizons has created a series of posters to  help you present these brain rules to your students and serve as a reminder to all throughout the year.    

Please share your experiences of teaching your students the Brain Rules and implementing this knowledge when crafting your lessons. Join our community of life-long learners and passionate educators! You can find us on Twitter and Facebook!

leaf-iconCo-Authored by: Michelle Leip and Kathleen Kryza