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Brain Strategies


Smith, J.A. (2006). 90 instructional strategies for the classroom. Marion, IL: Pieces of Learning.

About the book...

Author Janet Aaker Smith includes some great ideas for activities that will get your students motivated to learn. Each activity emphasizes 4 areas: brain link, brain processing preference, content skill, and thinking skill. You've probably used some of these activities in your classroom. Hopefully you will continue to incorporate them into your curriculum and have a better understanding about why the activities are relevant to your students. The activities are not listed in any particular order.

1. Cube-It

Students use a cube to help them think about a topic from 6 specific perspectives. Download printable cube templates here or use the online version found at Read-Write-Think interactive.

Brain Link - challenge, choice/variety, trigger emotions, relevance

Brain Processing Preference - verbal/linguistic, visual/spatial, tactile, artistic, individual

Content Skill - reading, organizing, writing, summarizing, following directions

Thinking Skill - problem solving, sequence, analysis, synthesis, evaluation, originality, and composing

2. Graffiti Grammar Art

Students show what they know about adjectives, nouns, verbs, and adverbs by writing the words artistically to represent words visually. This can be done using Microsoft Word (Word Art), PowerPoint, or Pixie. You may also want to consider using Worlde or Tagxedo for this activity!

Brain Link - novelty, multiple memory, pathways

Brain Processing Preference - visual/spatial, artistic, tactile, individual

Content Skill - grammar

Thinking Skill - comprehension, imagination, creating

3. Graphic Organizers

Students can use Kidspiration or Inspiration to help organize their thoughts and information about specific topics. Text and pictures can be added to create diagrams.

Here are some sites that have a variety of graphic organizers which can be printed if students don't make their own:

Brain Link - attention/focus, activate prior knowledge, pattern seeking, multiple memory pathways, relevance

Brain Processing Preference - verbal/linguistic, visual, tactile, individual/pairs, or small gropus

Content Skill - reading, language development, writing

Thinking Skill - organizing skills, brainstorming, attributes, integrating skills

4. I Have...Who Has

Students are taught to "think on their feet" and shift gears quickly in an active way to review content. Cards are usually created by the teacher, cut apart, and then given to students. This site lets you create your own custom sets of cards -

Brain Link - attention focus, practice, feedback, activate prior knowledge, social interaction

Brain Processing Preference - verbal/linguistic, auditory, group, tactile

Content Skill - vocabulary, listening

Thinking Skill - flexibility, risk taking, cause/effect

5. Jeopardy

This is a motivating way to review information and specific content. Create individual Jeopardy score cards for students to fill in while playing. There are a variety of templates available for Power Point and SMART Notebook. Here are some sites to help get started:

Brain Link - social interaction, practice, feedback, novelty, attention

Brain Processing Preference - verbal/linguistic, interpersonal, anlaytic, tactile, individual/groups

Content Skill - All

Thinking Skill - comprehension, analysis, evaluation, risk taking

6. Journals

Helps promote self reflection and allows students to reflect on personal experiences that are meaningful to them and express their own opinions and ideas.

Kidblog is a great site to help foster online journal writing. There are lots of classes who have used Kidblog this year; ask your ITRT if this is something that you are interested in learning more about for next year.

Brain Link - reflection, relevance, multiple memory pathways

Brain Processing Preference - verbal/linguistic, interpersonal, individual

Content Skill - All

Thinking Skill - analysis, synthesizing, evaluation, composing, observing

7. Rap It

For students who like to learn through music and chanting, preparing, rehearsing, and performing a rap song related to a theme can help them internalize learning. Audacity, Voki, and Voice Thread can be used to help record and share audio creations. Audacity is software that can be found on classroom computers.

Brain Link - pattern seeking, novelty, challenge, social interaction

Brain Processing Preference - musical/rhythmic, verbal/linguistic, bodily/kinesthetic, auditory, analytic, individual, pairs, groups

Content Skill - All

Thinking Skill - imagination, sequencing, summarizing, elaboration, analysis, risk taking

8. Throw the Dice

This hands-on review strategy is a game where each group has a die and a question sheet. Students roll the die and answer the correlating question number.

SMARTBoard users: SMART Notebook software has a variety of interactive dice to choose from that could be used for this activity.

BrightLink users: Easi Teach software has interactive dice in the widget section.

*Here is an online dice roller site:

Brain Link - social interaction, reflection, practice

Brain Processing Preference - verbal/linguistic, tactile, analytic, groups

Content Skill - All

Thinking Skill - comprehension, elaboration, analysis

9. Top 10 Lists

This is a motivating activity that sparks creativity and imagination. Students can create a top 10 list related to any unit of study. Microsoft Word, Publisher, or Power Point can be used to create the final list.

Brain Link - challenge, practice, humor, novelty

Brain Processing Preference - verbal/linguistic, analytic, individual/pairs/groups

Content Skill - following directions, comprehension, summarizations, word meaning

Thinking Skill - problem solving, analysis, fluency, flexibility, attributes, risk taking, imagination

10. Venn Again

Find similarities and differences between two things and present them in a diagram (circles or ovals that overlap). Kidspiration, Inspiration, or Microsoft Word or Power Point can be used to create diagrams that include both text and pictures.

Brain Link - practice, evaluation, pattern seeking

Brain Processing Preference - logical/mathematical, visual/spatial, analytic, individual/groups/pairs

Content Skill - All

Thinking Skill - analysis, evaluation, classify, attributes

Jennifer Hicks - ITRT

Hanover County Public Schools

  • Kersey Creek Elementary
  • Pole Green Elementary
  • Rural Point Elementary