Few deny that secondary students focus faster and remember more when they tackle lecture topics with more mental equipment than mere listening skills. Yet teachers who face overwhelming pressures from tests, standards and curriculum demands often deliver critical facts as a last resort, in spite of what we know about active learning benefits. When we hack lectures with brief brain boosts, however, we focus teen’s attention on possibilities that improve their emotional and cognitive well-being. Teens rewire their chemical and electrical circuitry for active participation boosts that generate increased activity in frontal domains where they learn to engage possibilities to curriculum-based problems in ways that also add emotional and overall wellbeing. How so?
If you’re interested in brief breaks from lectures, where students shift from listening or note-taking to actively internalizing incoming information, the brief brain boosts below will get you started. Each brain boost comes designed to help you hack lectures in ways that foster learning with their brains more in mind. Teens love to travel along scenic side roads lined with their unique capabilities, and too many of them stall along fixed pathways where lectures dominate and boredom sometimes seems designated as better. Teen brains come to class well equipped and wired for focus and fun, which offers mind-bending advantages only when they shift into active, growth mindset modes.
When teens complete a brain booster, their thinking shifts to spot innovative possibilities as solutions to curriculum problems they internalize through a different lens. During brief brain boost breaks, their brains shift away from listening, memorizing, or note-taking delivered facts, to problem solving for possibilities. Brain boosts switch on their chemical and electrical circuitry and helps them integrate and process new information. Try any of these brain boost to hack a lecture whenever your class appears ready for a two-minute jump-start, or a mindful pivot to new directions:
1. Stump the Students Challenge
I cut papers ahead into 4″ by 6″ blocks and store these in a Stump-the-Student box or drawer. At several intervals during lectures, hand one blank index card or 4″ by 6″ paper to each student-pair. In one minute students jot down an interesting lesson-related question on one side and their brief response on the other. Peer teams then walk to the other side of class and pose their question to a team on the other side of classroom. Their goal is to try and stump another teen pair. Students add a check under one of two columns you’ve displayed, and titled : Stumped Fairly or Failed to Stump. (Alter times allocated to this challenge or change any two-minute suggested time according to your schedule and goals for each hack).
2. Hook the Hack
Students stand in rows of eight or so. Before you start the race, whisper to each student at the back, a brief (preferably funny) one-liner that applies or hooks one detail from the lecture topic, onto one familiar practice or teen-friendly concept. In a lecture about resource management, for instance, you might whisper, “They lumped their lumber onto Larry’s laptop.” Compete to see what team can finish first. Student at the front of lines, jot down what was just whispered to them. Check to see which teams can stated the correct message at the end. Teams take one minute to brainstorm hooks from their lesson topic, and mindmap a lesson topic by connecting to their interests or capabilities.
3. Cheat Sheet Creations
On an 8″ and1/2″ by 11″ paper, student pairs write all the facts, details or answers they’d like to take into their next test or review. They must write fast as they get only 2 minutes to cram in all the information they see as vital. They pass in cheat sheet results after listing both their names on top. Photocopy each team sheet and hand these out to team members during the next quiz, test or review.
4. Pitch to the Other Side
Students state in one minute a main concept covered on the lesson or lecture topic, that could possibly become a debatable statement. Their statements should be brief and clearly stated. Then they pair with a person on the other side of class, to pitch their concept to a person by giving two reasons why this is likely true. Their teammate will then respond by supporting its exact opposite with two valid reasons why the opposite is actually true also. A debatable example may be, War was the best solution. The pitch might include the fact that more territory was won, and peace eventually occurred. Their teammate then responds with 2 valid reasons why war was NOT the best solution. Supportive reasons on this opposite side may include, many people died unnecessarily and people learned to fight for peace rather than to negotiate robust peace plans. This hack should take 2 minutes only – and that means that some teams just begin to think about looking to the opposite side to defend an opposing view to any topic.
5. Move to Synchronize Left and Right Brain
Try this kinesthetic brain boost teaser. While sitting – make clockwise circles with your right foot. At the same time, draw the number 6 in the air with your right hand. What direction is your foot going now? If you have just joined ranks with the majority of people who learn through attempting this movement, how their right and left brain domains do not always interact easily or with a single goal in mind, try it again until you get it down. What does this brain boost illustrate to you about using both sides of your brain and the power of practice?
6. Gender Circle
Pair with a person of the same gender to tell in one minute how one lesson detail shifts when considered through the view of your gender only. Then join a pair from the opposite gender to compare gender perspectives on the same detail in one minute. Rather than long discussions, this brain boost simply alerts teens to the fact that point of view matters in most topics, and in that regard gender views sometimes differ too.
7. Sketch in the Sky
In pairs, students take turns drawing a picture (or mime) related to the lesson, in the air while their partner guesses what that picture or mime depicts. They may take their first minute to visualize and practice their air-sketch, and then pair-share for the second minute. The idea is to move, link, and share ideas that relate to the lecture or lesson topic and to boost their brains by looking at one aspect of the topic briefly through their spatial intelligence to spot any new angles they could otherwise miss in a lecture or talk.
8. Twitter Tale of a Personal Strength
In a twitter length message to a friend, tell what else you might see in this lesson or lecture if you looked through the filter of one different intelligence. What interesting details might you spot that could be missed otherwise – if you engage one of your intelligences that includes a strength you enjoy?
Choose from one of the following eight intelligences: a).Musical-rhythmic—which includes singing, playing an instrument, culture; b).Bodily-kinesthetic—which includes gymnastics, sports, running, dancing, coordination and building activities; c).Visual-spatial —which includes visual arts, sculpting, crafts, geometry, interior decorating; d).Verbal-linguistic—which includes reading, writing, poetry, stories, debates, speeches, media phrases; e).Mathematical-logical—which includes math, visual work, organization, problem solving, sequencing ideas, thinking logically; f).Interpersonal—which includes relationships with others, respect, multicultural understanding, helping others solve problems; g).Intrapersonal—which includes self-confidence, self-management, values, spiritual truths, reflections; h).Naturalistic—which includes use of nature to analyze, categorize, describe, compare, and collect evidences
9. Solve in Court or Celebrate in Castles
With a peer, set up a town hall or court scene to identify and litigate your case against an unethical behavior that likely occurred in a situation you identified from the lesson. Or identify a noble and courageous action that’s worthy of celebration and awards from castle towers. Ethics here is defined as a moral code, a person’s values, the rights and wrongs of an action, principles, ideals, standards of behavior, a value system, virtues, or dictates of conscience, that a person or group agrees to follow. Be sure to state your evidence for the trial of an ethical breach or the tributes of a hero’s honor.
10. Inspire a Bully to Disagree Better
Describe how you would inspire a bully to disagree while building goodwill among others. You may wish to use these counterpoint skills, for example, before you offer your own point of view – a). Affirm others who differ in a specific example; b). Thank others for unique insights on the topic; c). Respect all views by valuing diversity on the topic; d). Ask open and engaging questions that draw others in. What would you do first, to motivate the bully to use communication skills to discuss hot topics without attacking the other side?
For the above practices, the goal is to start with two minutes, and extend any hack that may engage students actively in the lesson goals.
Consider that the mind is most focused when engaged in solving meaningful problems that relate to learners. Furthermore, the amygdala (which is the seat of students’ emotions) fuels much greater learning opportunities when students work without stress, engage in novelty, and gain an awareness of their cognitive and emotional strengths.
How will you hack your next lecture in a way that advances your students?
Looking for further focus tools, tasks and tests that increase achievement and motivation through brain based materials. Find dozens of materials here at my TpT site – all student ready – with no prep required for teachers. Let me know what else you would like to hack your lectures and help student progress.
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Created by Ellen Weber, Brain Based Tasks for Growth Mindset