Brain Rules in the Classroom: Part 4

Biology gives you a brain. Life turns it into a mind.
— Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex

This Month’s Brain Rules

Brain Rule # 10:  Vision trumps all other senses.  

Vision is by far our most dominant sense, taking up half of our brain’s resources.
— John Medina - Brain Rules

Humans are remarkably good at remembering pictures. Three days after hearing information, we remember only 10% of it, but if we add visuals (written words and pictures) to the oral language we remember 65% of it! Keep in mind that pictures beat text. When we read, our brain converts the words into images. The process of making words into pictures is more time-consuming though and actually does not result in greater recall.  Generally, analytic visual learners will process the printed word before iconic (pictorial) information; whereas global visual learners will process iconic (pictorial) information before reading the printed text.
What does this mean in our classrooms?

Many of us use slideshows for our lessons. If those slideshows have too much text, it’s time to revise them using fewer words and more pictures! The power of carefully chosen images for locking in comprehension and recall is too important to ignore. Knowing how heavily our brain relies on visual input, we should try to find as many ways as possible to stimulate this sense during instruction. Here are some ideas on how to do just that:

  • Use visual aids with everything! – Visual aids can include such things as: realia (the actual object), slideshows (with images), maps, graphs, photographs, drawings, paintings, etc. Whatever you teach, be sure to attach an image to it!
  • Infuse art into your lesson.  – Create opportunities for students to make visual representations of new concepts. This can be a drawing in their notes, a picture added to their vocabulary journal, a collage about a topic, or a 3-D representation of concept. Find ways to increase students’ visual exposure to new ideas or concepts.
  • Make mental images:  As much as we try to use visuals in our lessons, students will not always have that type of support when learning new things. It’s important for them to know how to create mental images of the information that they learn. When reading text, students should close their eyes and visualize what’s happening or what they are learning. We can model this for them by actually making physical drawings at first and then slowly weaning away to only mental images. Having this skill will help students digest and recall information that they have read when visuals are not available. 

Brain Rule #11: Male and female brains are different.  
As you may have assumed, neuroscience has found that certain parts of the brain are larger in males and others are larger in females. The science is not specific enough yet to know whether or not that size affects the efficiency of use of those portions of the brain. What we do know is that both genders process emotions and handle stress differently. These differences are a product of complex interactions between nature and nurture.  
What does this mean in our classrooms?

Regardless of gender, we know that all brains are different. Each of our students comes to us with a variety of talents, strengths, interests, and challenges. It is important for us to really know each and every one of them, male and female, and to design our lessons to meet their needs. Infinite Horizons has a collection of student interest and learning style surveys on our website to get you started on your path to knowing and understanding all of your students. 

Brain Rule  #12: We all are powerful and natural explorers.
 If you’ve ever spent time observing a baby play, you have witnessed proof of our innate desire to learn through exploration. Babies use all of their senses to discover everything they can about any new object they encounter. They act like little scientists - coming up with and testing hypotheses to learn as much as possible about the world around them.
Humans are wired to learn through exploration, because that’s what allowed us to survive in the wild. We needed to be able to learn from and react to our environment and, in many ways, we still do.

What does this mean in our classrooms?

This incessant curiosity does not only exist in babies. It is within each and every learner in our classrooms. We just have to find ways to tap into students’ innate desire to explore the world around them. But how do we do that within the structure of a classroom and our curriculum standards? (Glad you asked!)

  • Start with a question.  – Inquiry-based learning ignites curiosity within our students and leads to deep, meaningful learning.  Start your lessons with questions such as, “How do you think rainbows happen?, “Why do you think the author titled this book, “Grapes of Wrath?”
  • Create mystery. – Find a way to create intrigue around a topic by building a story, riddle, or mystery around it. In order to solve the mystery, students need to learn as much as possible about the topic.
  • Use attention grabbers/hooks. – A short video clip, an exciting prop (like a lightning globe), or a silly skit related to the topic of study is sure to grab your students’ attention before any lesson. This little break in the daily routine wakes up students’ brains and prepares them for exploring new information. A great book for getting ideas for hooks is Dave Burgess book, “Teach Like a Pirate.” 
  • Use Kathleen’s Infinite Horizons CUKAN lesson planning method.  - This planning template allows teachers to think through all aspects of a lesson that lead to the deeper WHY behind the standards and benchmarks.  Leading your units of instruction this way facilitates intentional and transparent teaching so that students will not only know what they are studying; they will also know why it’s important to know. Remember, the brain loves to know why. 
  • Be a guide on the side.  – Students learn best when they are engaged in discovering patterns and actively digesting new information. We need to plan student-centered lessons that allow for “less of us, and more of them.” Whoever is doing the most thinking is doing the most learning. Our goal as teachers should be to become the guide on the side rather than sage on the stage. Remember, for every 10 minutes you teach something new, the brain needs one or two minutes to chew. The “chew” time is when students are exploring and clarifying new ideas. 


We have really enjoyed digging into all of John Medina’s Brain Rules with you over the last few months and hope you have, too! (If you missed any of the previous Brain Rules in the Classroom issues, click here.)  Please let us know what resonated with you or how you think these Brain Rules will inform your teaching this year! 

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Co-Authored by: Michelle Leip and Kathleen Kryza