Brain-Based Learning in the Classroom


Your brain is 73% water. Even mild dehydration can affect attention, memory and other cognitive skills. (Drink plenty of water!)

The human brain doesn’t reach full maturity until around the age of 25 years. (That explains a lot.)

It is estimated that the brain’s memory capacity is one quadrillion bytes - which is about the equivalent of the storage space of the entire World Wide Web. (Although, I can’t even remember what I ate for dinner last night.)

Brain-based learning is more than just random, yet fascinating, facts about the brain. It involves implementing research-based strategies that support brain development and function. Author and researcher, Eric Jensen, defines brain-based learning as: the application of a meaningful group of principles that represent our understanding of how our brain works in the context of education. Brain-based learning is simply the engagement of strategies based on body/mind/brain research. A few examples of the principles Jensen refers to include:

  • Brains are dynamic, not static
  • Human brains are social brains
  • Physical and cognitive connectivity (body/mind/brain connection)
  • Humans are emotional by nature

So how can we use these principles to guide our brain-based instruction and optimize learning in the classroom? Here are a few suggestions to consider:

Strengthen social conditions and social awareness in your classroom.

The school and classroom environments provide countless social opportunities for students. However, social skills such as cooperation, effective communication, problem-solving, and empathy do not come naturally for everyone. These skills can be learned and strengthened with direct instruction and opportunities to practice in the classroom.

Eric Jensen warns against allowing “random social groupings” for more than 10-20% of the school day. According to the Journal of Social Neuroscience, feeling isolated, unaccepted by peers, or otherwise poor social conditions correlates with decreased brain cells. Jensen suggests teachers work to strengthen “pro-social conditions” by using “targeted, planned, diverse social groupings with mentoring, teams, and buddy systems.”  This link provides several ideas to consider for grouping students in your classroom.

To increase social awareness, provide students with opportunities to collaborate and work together on common goals - but don’t stop there. When the projects are complete, give students time to reflect by journaling about the process involved with working with their partners or groups of peers. Use prompts to guide students with their thinking. Here are a few examples:

  • How did you feel about working with your peers on this project? Please explain.
  • What were the advantages of working with your group on this project?
  • What challenges or roadblocks did your group experience while working on this project? How were those challenges overcome?
  • How do you think your group viewed your efforts as a member of the team?
  • What might you do differently the next time you work on a project with your peers?

Promote healthful lifestyles.
Nutrition, exercise, and sleep are all factors that affect our dynamic brains – for better or for worse. Aim to incorporate health and fitness discussions and activities into your daily teaching practices. For example, allow students access to drinking water throughout the day. Encourage students to participate in extra-curricular activities such as sports and clubs that promote physical activity. And, of course, be a healthy role model for your students by eating nutritious snacks, getting plenty of sleep, and participating in your school’s wellness programs. The Centers for Disease Control provides this handout of practical tips for teachers on promoting healthy eating and physical activity in the classroom.

Teach students how to manage stress.

An increased level of learning, better decision-making skills, increased cooperation and teamwork among peers - never underestimate the power of calm brains. Take a few moments to teach your students self-calming and stress management strategies. You will empower your students to manage their strong emotions proactively while creating a peaceful environment that is optimal for learning. Below are links to my top go-to strategies:

While moderate levels of stress can be helpful for learning, chronic stress can be detrimental for brain functioning and development. This 5-minute TED Ed animated video brilliantly demonstrates the link between stress and memory.

KidsHealth provides free, engaging lessons and activities that address stress management at all grade levels. Download them here:

Interested in learning more about brain-based learning? Register for Principles of Brain-Based Learning: Teaching 21st Century Minds. This online course will give you a deeper understanding of how the brain develops and functions in the context of education with a focus on the principles of brain-based learning. This course will enable you to design lessons and activities that optimize learning and success in your classroom.


Here are a few classes related to this topic:

Jill Rockwell
Jill has over 13 years of experience as a licensed teacher in the areas of Special Education, Reading Education, and Health Education. She embraces diversity and has worked with students in grades K-12 in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and California. Jill completed her Master of Science degree at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls while teaching full time. She fully understands the soaring demands of today’s teachers. Her courses are designed to maximize the time of all educators by providing engaging, meaningful, and applicable activities which can be used to enhance teaching practices. She focuses on research-based best practices and technology integration throughout her own instructional practices. Together with her husband and two young boys, Jill enjoys traveling, biking and the changing seasons of the great outdoors in Wisconsin. 

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