Using Brain Strategies to Impact Student Learning

  • by Cindy Jones
  • Sept. 12, 2020, 11:33 a.m.

By Cindy Jones

Students’ behaviors have changed a lot in the past ten years. Today’s educators need specific strategies to help keep students engaged and learning. These strategies, which are based on current brain research, also reduce boredom and acting out behaviors.

Movement: every 17 minutes

After 17 minutes, blood begins to pool in the hamstrings and Melatonin is released throughout the body. This makes you sleepy. Movement (just 6 steps) will stop this process for 35 minutes, so have students get up and move around.

Talk to your partner: Every 20-30 minutes

Have students engage in academic conversations to discuss new information. This makes learning personal and relevant. Just the act of moving your head and mouth helps the brain imprint the new learning.

Brain Breaks:

The human brain is not designed for continuous learning. The brain needs processing time and down time away from directed, focused instruction. There should be fun brain breaks to reduce fatigue and rest the brain.

A brain break could be:

• write in the air the answer to a question

• chant the main idea 5 times while patting your head and rubbing your stomach

• stand up if I read a True statement

State Changes: Every 10-12 minutes

When you “change the state," you grab the brain’s attention. Students need a state change at a rate of one minute per year of age (example: 8 year old, after 8 minutes). The maximum time that a brain can pay attention is 12 minutes, so a 16 year old would need a break after 12 minutes, as would an adult.

• A state change is done very quickly and could be changing your voice, holding up an interesting prop, or having a student give a physical response such as a thumbs up if you can tell me one thing you just learned.

Water: Every 15 minutes

The Parietal area of the brain (top of your head) de-hydrates after 15 minutes. This causes a reduction in problem solving and math abilities. Allow students to have automatically sealing water bottles on their desks and sip on water every 15 minutes to rehydrate the brain and maximize problem solving abilities. Test scores can increase by 60% when you are hydrated.

Safe Environment:

The brain is impacted by threat and excess stress. This stress will reduce higher level thinking. Vasopressin, an aggression chemical, goes up and Serotonin , a calming chemical, goes down when there is a high stress environment. Have a calming environment for you and your students.


Listening to background music in the classroom helps many students stay focused while completing certain tasks. It needs to be played at a very low volume and not have words or a heavy beat. Music by Yanni, Jim Brickman (Soothe), and Kenny G are good examples of quiet background music. Spa music or classical music can also work.

These strategies have helped me and other educators to create a positive learning climate in which students can thrive.

Cindy Jones is a 50 year veteran teacher. She has co-authored 4 books and written many teacher handbooks for the Bureau of Education and Research. Currently, Cindy provides staff development to schools and districts across the country and in Canada. She presents numerous brain and behavior seminars for the Bureau of Education and Research. Be sure to look for her all new seminar Practical Strategies for Improving the Behavior of Attention-Seeking, Manipulative and Challenging Students

Contact Cindy Jones at [email protected].