3 Ways to Activate the Students Brain

Courses, Misc., Musings, Tips


Have you ever had a student tell you, “You never taught me that” when you know that not only have you taught them what they were claiming you didn’t, but you have gone through it multiple times?

There is actually a scientific reason in the brain that explain why a student has no memory of being taught a particular concept. As teachers we have the responsibility to activate our students brain. We need to make sure they are fully engaged in their learning. This isn’t always easy especially if you are experiencing a bit of burnout. (See articles regarding burnout here.)

So how can we engage our students and get that brain activated? Here are 3 ways you can start with…

Engaging lesson materials and activities

As you already know, students minds are more distracted then ever before. There are so many different directions their brains are going. Think of when you were a child or teenager in school and how easy it was to daydream or even doodle in class. Well, now add in the distractions of mobile technology. That was something that wasn’t around when I was a teenager. Even if cell phones were in pockets, the buzzing that might happen instantly takes their focus away and now they are focused on who might be texting or posting on Instagram. And if they have to give up their phone, you know that they are still thinking about it and what they might be missing ESPECIALLY if there is some sort of drama going on at that time.

It is imperative that we have engaging lessons and activities with our students. Hands on learning that requires complete focus and engagement. Get up and move, sing, chant, dance. Get off the bench, play games, clap, drum. Luckily because we are music teachers, this isn’t terribly hard to do.


Positive Attitude and Encouragement

So what does positive attitude and encouragement have to do with the brain and learning? A lot. The science behind it is called neuroplasticity. Which basically means that our thoughts can change the function and structure of our brain.

A negative attitude distracts from learning. When students are in a negative environment they are going to be limited on what they can learn. The brain simply closes off and the negative emotions such as stress, anxiety and fear take over.

When a student is in a positive environment, the brain opens up and welcomes learning and builds new skills. Students not only learn more but are more engaged. A great article to read on this subject is Positive Thinking by James Clear.

The first step for us as teachers is to create a positive learning environment so our students can engage in their learning. The next step is to teach our students to think positively. One thing that I give each new student that comes into my studio is this quote by Charles Swindoll on Attitude. (Just click on picture to download)



I teach students from day 1 how important positive attitude is when they are learning. It is in their assignment workbook every year because I want them to be reminded of it often.


Revisit Often

You know the age old saying, practice makes perfect? Well, when we practice what are we doing? We are revisiting often. The same thing can be applied to teaching. It’s not enough to teach that a quarter note gets one beat, has a head and stem and is all colored in. This needs to be reviewed. Students need to hear it, play it, see it and label it. This doesn’t necessarily have to be done in one lesson setting.

Let’s face it overtime our brain will forget. It stores a lot of  information and if a memory is half forgotten the moment it is placed, it won’t last in the memory bank very long. Have you ever had a lesson that the student seemed to catch on quickly because you were able to move along concepts quickly so you kept throwing things at them and assumed that everything was all good? The problem is, they may hear you and they may understand it in that moment, but the second they walk out the door, most of those memories of what you just taught them have disappeared.

It is important to return often to what you were teaching but even better, present in different ways so the repeats aren’t tuned out. This concept is called spiral teaching. Spiral teaching revisits “old” concepts and builds on “new” concepts over and over thus creating a spiral.

Understanding the brain will help us activate it and allow increased engagement in our students  learning.


How do you create a positive environment for your students when you are just not feeling it that day?  Why do students keep forgetting concepts you are teaching? How can you check for understanding and engagement? I answer those question and SO much more in the new online courseActivate Your Brain: Engaged Learning Strategies that Work! 4 hours of video modules and over 30 ways to check for understanding and engagement is only a part of what you will find inside. Included as a bonus is a growing bundle of supporting PDF’s that you will be able to use with your students as well! The course does not expire so you can take your time in completing the modules. Join me today! Register below.



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