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    • #1144
      Dan Warner

      How can I open my class in a “brain-based” way?

    • #1234
      Bryan Harris, Ed.D.

      Hi Dan,

      How do we begin our class in a brain-based way? Excellent question. Many teachers do some sort of bell work or warm up activity in the first few minutes of class. When starting class, we have two, sometimes competing challenges. First, a routine such a bell work provides students with a sense of security. Students need to know that class starts with certain procedures and expectations. That “sameness” brings a level of security in order to reduce unnecessary stress and anxiety. A problem we have is that the brain also loves novelty. The brain tends to ignore (or subconsciously monitor) those things that are routine (like bell work) and actively focus attention on those things that are new, novel, or out of the ordinary. So, after the first couple weeks of school, bell work is no longer new or novel so their little brains (this actually true of adults as well), will start to focus and attend to those things in the classroom environment that are novel. Novel things in the classroom environment can range from the student who comes to class late to the kids in the corner who are talking.

      So, how do we balance the need for security and novelty at the same time in order to begin the class in a brain-based way? Well, we don’t want to abandon procedures and routines. But I would start classes by posing an interesting question or showing an image or quote that relates to what we are learning. In other words, the novelty is going to be centered on what I want them to learn. I might say something like, “Students, has anyone ever studied for a test and thought to themself, I am totally ready for this test. I am going to ace it! But then when you get the test you freeze and can’t seem to remember anything? Today, we are going to talk about why this happens and I’m going to give you 3 easy strategies that will help you do your best on any test. Before we do that though, our bell work today is going to be a short journal entry. You see the journal prompt on the board relates to testing and test stress. Go ahead and complete your journal entry and we’ll get started on the lesson in about 5 minutes.”

      In other words, I am going to pique their curiosity on something novel and then relate that topic to their bell work. There are tons of great resources available that explain novelty, attention, and focus. One of my favorites is Dr. John Medina’s book Brain Rules.

      Thanks for posing the question. If you want to talk more, send me a message at

    • #1252
      Craig Carson


      Bryan did an excellent job of explaining why you want to pique a student’s interest. The Medina book is a good read. Depending on the age of the student, I find Eric’s book, Turnaround Tools for the Teenage Brain a good resource to give insight for your thinking. Chapter three is all about attitude building. I often try to begin class with a read aloud (even in secondary classrooms) and a journal prompt or a turn-to-your-partner chat. The beginning of class is a great time to build student self-awareness and boost healthy attitudes. Here are three authors and 5 books that are good examples of shaping the classroom thinking towards empathy in how we view each other.

      Author Marlo Thomas—Free to Be You and Me; Author Peter H. Reynolds—So Few of Me, The Dot, Ish; and Author Amy Krouse Rosenthal—Exclamation Mark

      These books are great examples of the “slice of life” genre. Specifically, they are realistic stories that describe a slice of the everyday. Kids (and adults) can relate to the experience. For example, we’ve all had the feeling of “stuck” and just needed a way to move on creatively. This teacher gave Vashti a way to do just that. Read this text from The Dot. “The next week, when Vashti walked into art class, she was surprised to see what was hanging above her teacher’s desk. It was the little dot she had drawn—HER DOT! All framed in swirly gold!”

      One prompt that might follow Reynolds’ work is the following: “In your journal explain in 3 sentences or less what do you do to help yourself when you are in a creatively ‘stuck’ spot?” From there we would partner share and then as a class brainstorm how we can help each other when stuck. Altogether with the read-aloud, prompt, and brainstorm you have spent about 12 – 15 minutes building community, reframing the class thinking, and building cognitive tools for the students. And you have introduced the class to a circular text that has great crafting techniques. You have helped build student attitudes and helped them gain strategies to use toward learned optimism! Now that is a pay off!

      Dan, if you would like other slice-of-life genre texts, just let me know—

    • #16422
      Cid Schumpert

      I enjoyed the posts written by Craig and Bryan. Their ideas are right on, but I also think that a “brain based” class starts before the bell. Greeting students at the door in a warm friendly way goes a long way toward getting brains ready to learn. Also, I try to keep in mind where my students are coming from. If they are coming from a teacher who is head down, pencil up, no talking, no drinks or restroom, then I make sure we take care of physical needs first and then change the students’ state by starting class with an activity that allows some movement and interaction. If my students are coming from PE or a teacher without a lot of structure, my opening activity may need to be more calming.

      “Brain based” classrooms are a rewarding experience for students and teachers alike!

    • #42264

      Other good ideas for brain based openers are:

      1) Music: begin the class with a song that helps orchestrate emotions. it can be a song related to the topic you will be introducing. For example: “talking bout a revolution” by Tracy Chapman for a class about politics,apartheid, etc. You can always start with music, like Bryan said, in order to have a routine that provides security, yet change the song according to the topic.

      2) Humor: begin class with a joke. Find a joke that relates to the topic you are going to teach and make it even more meaningful.

      3) Movement: begin class with some kind of movement, changing the intention of the movement. It can be a change of the classroom organization request like: let´s put our chairs in a semicircle, or it can be a go find someone and tell them about…… for 2 minutes….., or any other way of having students stand and move for a little while.

      I do have to say I agree with Craig, I love “story openers” they are soooooo engaging, I’ve use some of the stories you suggest with adult learners and they “always” work, and they are also very good for closure and leave a sense of “talk to the hearth” .
      I would love to hear some other ideas and how this ones work for you.

    • #43730
      Bob Sherman

      I think we sometimes make the implementation of brain-based learning more complicated then necessary. First I think that you should become familiar with the basic concept of “brain-based” learning. (i.e. Creating a relaxed, nonthreatening environment that removes students’ fear of failure). Research the twelve basic principles of brain-based learning. If you feel that you want to continue to pursue the implementation of the concepts. Find a level of implementation that you feel comfortable with. Inform your students that you want to try something a little different then they may be accustomed to. Sell them on how this is going to benefit them. Once you begin keep a record of how things are progressing. Don’t be afraid to ask your students for constructive feedback as well. As you comfort level increases add in other elements of brain-based learning.. Remember to use the K.I.S.S. approach when implementing the principles of brain-based learning.

    • #53890
      Lisa Baker

      I agree with all the previous posts. Keeping things routine, yet simple is key. As a Pre-K teacher, this is how I start our day in a brain friendly way:

      1) Students are greeted at the door by an adult (teacher or assistant)
      2) Students “check – in” by moving a magnet with their name. ( Students are learning name recognition, routine as well as a time saver for me when taking attendance.)
      3) Kids play in the playroom until announcements. ( Allowing for flexibility for students as arrive while still providing a routine.)
      4) After announcements, I greet each child with our classroom puppet. Each child chooses how they will be greeted (High five, kiss or hug). The brain LOVES choice!
      5) Before going to breakfast, we review a breathing strategy. This helps all of us ( teacher too!) to release stress and anxiety from our home life and oxygenate the brain to begin our learning.
      6) We are lucky enough to have breakfast provided! While at times it is not the healthiest ( too many carbs if you ask me), I am grateful to make sure that all of my students have the fuel they need to start our day!

      This is how we start every day. It is working well for my group of students.

    • #72311
      Alicia Alvarez-Calderon

      Music is my number one! Use something that’s catchy, upbeat that will wake up students. Set the mood, the tone from the beginning. Like Lisa said, make sure you greet students as well. Have a great smile when you say good morning to them. Something I learned this year is to greet people with “Tell me something good” instead of “how are you’? It helps set people in a positive state. Try it, it gets great reactions.

    • #72408
      Ricky Chan

      I love all ideas shared above!! I also agree with Cid mentioned that “brain based class starts before the bell”. Before the students entering the classroom, I will also check the temperature, lighting, oxygen & fresh air, seating arrangement of the venue as these environment factors affect the efficiency of the brain as well as having long-term impact on it.

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