Neuroscience and psychology teach us a lot about the human brain and how we most effectively learn new things. We can make use of this research to enhance our learning capability, memory, and academic performance. We’ve sourced 20 brain-based learning strategies for you to implement in the classroom. You can try these techniques whether you’re a student looking to amp up your study game or a teacher wanting to change up your teaching approach.
1. Hands-On Learning Activities
Hands-on learning can be a valuable brain-based teaching approach, especially for child development skills. Your students can touch and explore while they learn- expanding their sensory awareness and motor coordination.
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2. Flexible Activities
Each brain is unique and may be better attuned to a specific learning style. You can consider giving your students flexible options for assignments and activities. For example, while some students may flourish in writing short essays about a historical event, others may prefer making videos.
Learn More: ASCD
3. 90-Minute Learning Sessions
The human brain is able to focus for extended periods of time, as we all probably know from first-hand experience. According to neuroscientists, active learning sessions should be limited to 90 minutes for optimal focus time.
Learn More: Huberman Lab Clips
4. Put Away The Phone
Research has shown that the simple presence of your phone on the table while doing a task can reduce cognitive performance. Ditch the phone when you’re in class or studying. If you’re a teacher, encourage your students to do the same!
Learn More: UT News
5. Spacing Effect
Have you ever crammed last minute for a test? I have.. and I did not score well. Our brains learn most effectively through spaced learning repetitions, versus learning lots of information all at once. You can take advantage of this effect by spacing out lessons.
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6. Primacy Effect
We tend to remember things that are initially presented to us more than the things that follow. This is called the primacy effect. Therefore, you could design your lesson plan, to begin with, the most important points to take advantage of this effect.
Learn More: The Decision Lab
7. Recency Effect
In the last picture, after the “Zone of Huh?”, memory retention goes up. This is the recency effect, our tendency to remember recently presented information better. It’s a safe bet to present the key information at both the beginning and end of a lesson.
Learn More: Very Well Mind
8. Emotional Engagement
We are more likely to remember things that we emotionally engage with. For the biology teachers out there, when you teach about a specific disease, rather than just stating facts, you could try incorporating a story about someone who has the disease.
Learn More: TEDx Talks
Chunking is a technique of grouping smaller units of information into a larger “chunk”. You might group information based on their relatedness. For example, you might remember all of the Great Lakes using the acronym HOMES: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, & Superior.
Learn More: Exam Study Expert
10. Practice Tests
If the goal is to improve test performance, then doing practice tests can be the most valuable study technique. Your students can re-engage with the learned material in an interactive way that helps to solidify facts in memory, compared to simply re-reading notes.
Learn More: The University of British Columbia
Interleaving is a learning method where you incorporate a mix of various forms of practice questions, rather than repeatedly practicing the same types of questions. This can exercise your students’ flexibility around the understanding of a specific concept.
Learn More: Effectiviology
12. Say It Out Loud
Did you know that saying a fact out loud, versus silently in your head, is better for storing that fact in your memory? Neuroscience research says so! Next time your students are thinking through answers to a problem, encourage them to try thinking out loud!
Learn More: Inc.
13. Embrace Mistakes
How our students respond to mistakes impacts learning. When they make an error, they are more likely to remember the correct fact or way of doing things the next time. Mistakes are a part of learning. If they already knew everything, learning would be unnecessary.
Learn More: Greater Good Magazine
14. Growth Mindset
Our mindsets are powerful. A growth mindset is a perspective that our abilities are not fixed and that we can grow and learn new things. You can encourage your students to say, “I don’t understand this yet”, instead of “I don’t understand this”.
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15. Exercise Breaks
Exercise is not only beneficial for physical health. It also has value for the learning process. Some schools have started implementing short brain breaks of physical activity (~10 min) for every hour of learning. These can lead to enhanced attention and academic performance.
Learn More: The Globe And Mail
Even shorter brain breaks can strengthen memory and learning. You can try to implement micro-rests of 10 seconds or more throughout your next class. The brain image above shows patterns of learned neural pathways reactivating during micro-rest.
Learn More: Cohen Lab
17. Non-Sleep Deep Rest Protocol
Recent research has shown that non-sleep deep rest practices such as Yoga Nidra, napping, etc., can enhance learning. For best results, it can be done within an hour of ending a learning session. Neuroscientist, Dr. Andrew Huberman, uses this Yoga Nidra-guided practice daily.
Learn More: Yoga Nidra App
18. Sleep Hygiene
Sleep is when the things we’ve learned throughout the day get stored in our long-term memory. There are many tips you can teach your students to improve their sleep quality. For example, encourage them to go to sleep and wake up at consistent times.
Learn More: CDC
19. Delay School Start Time
Some neuroscientists are advocating delayed school start times to sync our students’ daily schedules with their circadian rhythms (i.e., biological clock) and alleviate sleep deprivation. While many of us don’t have the control to change schedules, you can try it out if you’re a homeschooler.
Learn More: The Guardian
20. Random Intermittent Reward
A brain-based approach to helping your students stay motivated to learn is to implement random rewards. If you give out treats every day, their brains will come to expect it and it won’t be as exciting. Spacing them out and giving them at random is key!
Learn More: Minds in Bloom