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Master Brain-Based Learning in 10 Simple Steps

Judy Willis, M.D., M.Ed.


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Thanks to advances in technology, we can now actually view the brain as it learns through neuroimaging and brain-mapping studies. This is one of the most exciting areas is brain-based memory research available today.

Based on my background as a neurologist and my experience as a classroom teacher, I’ve created this list of tips for any teacher to integrate brain-based learning strategies. Hopefully, you’ll find these connections between the research and strategies NEURO-LOGICAL.


Stress causes the brain intake systems to send information into the Reactive brain (automatic-fight, flight, freeze) and prevents information flow through to the reflective prefrontal cortex where long-term memory is constructed. Supportive classroom communities lower brain stress and open filters for learning. Use consistent rituals such as a class song, student jobs, a smile and a “good morning” greeting.

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Grab Attention

Memorable events make memories. Play music when students enter the class and hang posters “advertising” or giving hints about upcoming lessons. Curiosity increases attention and memory. During lessons, dramatic pauses will capture attention.


Have students use colored pens to match the color of your whiteboard markers to emphasize the important information. Use green, yellow, and red in order of importance - like a traffic light.


If students experience novelty from demonstrations, video clips, anecdotes, or even the enthusiasm in your voice, their attentive filters focus on the information.

Personal Meaning

Students must care enough about new information or consider it personally important for it to go through the brain filters and be stored as memory. Use information from Interest Surveys to connect students to the material OR use their names and names of their pets or favorite sport when giving math problems).

Relational Memories

The brain only retains working (short-term memory) for a minute unless it connects with prior knowledge. Activate their prior knowledge by having students make predictions and KWL (What I Know, What I Want to Know, What I Learned) charts.


The brain is a pattern-seeking organ. When students recognize relationships between new and prior knowledge, their brains can link the new information with a category of existing knowledge for long-term storage.Graphic organizers and making analogies builds patterns.

Mental Manipulation for Long Term Memory

Once the information gets to the prefrontal cortex students must do something with it to build permanent memories. Students can write summaries of new information in their own words. To make these even more personally meaningful, the summaries can be in forms that suit their learning style preferences including graphic organizers, sketches, and diagrams.

Practice Makes Permanent

By using multiple sensory lessons to review material, different neural networks store the knowledge in multiple brain regions. Their brains will build multiple pathways leading to the stored memory, which makes retrieval more efficient.

When a memory has been recalled often, their repeated activation strengthens its neuronal circuits, like exercising a muscle.

SYN-NAPS: Brain-Breaks

After as little as 10 minutes doing the same activity, neurotransmitters, brain transport proteins, needed for memory construction and attention are depleted. Syn-naps are brain-breaks where you change the learning activity to let the brain chemicals replenish. The Syn-naps can be stretching, singing, or acting out vocabulary words.

After just a few minutes, their refreshed brains will be ready for new memory storage.


How do you integrate brain-based learning strategies into your curriculum? Share in the comments section!