Brain Rules

Last year I went through all of John Medina’s brain rules on his website with great interest, and now Kate Hunt has reminded me about that with postings by Karen Rowan and Carol Gaab from the moretprs yahoo group.

Here’s Karen’s posting, which answered a query about how teachers can keep up the energy to do TPRS:

Sustainable TPRS: 

“I’d add one more thing to that. Read “Brain
 Rules.” In a lot of ways, the way we do TPRS 
isn’t brain friendly, mostly in the amount of
time between activity transitions. Since I read
this book in particular, but also previous brain 
research, I have re-worked TPRS with:
1. Real transitions. The brain pays attention
for only 10 minutes, so I change activities more often.
 2. Fake transitions. I do something in the
 middle of a story that includes the entire class,
so it’s not just me telling a story or a couple of people acting.
3. Processing transitions. Take a 30 second
break — turn to the person next to you and 
predict what could happen next in the
 story. (Stole that from Beth Skelton) Draw the 
story we just told using your left hand. 30
seconds. (Brain Rules — in order to transfer
information to processing by a different part of the brain) 

In an adult class in Washington in February I 
experimented with really following the Brain
 Rules advice and changing activities A
 LOT. Every few minutes I was asking them to get
 up. We did running dictation, reading a story
 and acting it out with a partner. I told a story
and they acted it out. They drew with their left
hands. The class went AMAZINGLY fast. When I
did it yesterday in class — randomly changing 
activities even within TPR, by grabbing a prop or
a picture or recycling older vocab, attention
 goes up. It has to be COMPELLING, comprehensible
 input, and if they aren’t paying attention…
well, it isn’t compelling. And the brain isn’t
capable of paying attention to one thing for more than a few minutes at a time.

It also says some pretty interesting things about
 how multi-tasking is a myth. No such 
thing. It’s a worthwhile read. It’s physically 
changed my teaching more than any other book I can think of lately.

Karen Rowan


Here’s what Carol had to say:

“In regard to the teacher who asked about TPRS being sustainable, I
wanted to throw out just a few tips for keeping it sustainable:
1) Use music
Once a week (or every other week) introduce a new song by decoding
the lyrics with students. Tell them about the song, play the song a
couple of times while students follow the lyrics with their finger. As
they build up a repetoir of song, play ‘old’ songs. Require students
to either a) follow the written lyrics as song is played. b) sing or
lip sync as it’s played. I play at least one song per class.

2) Use video
Play videos – but make sure they are completely comprehensible. Sr.
Wooly, Youtube, Cuéntame más interactive story cd, Extra, short
snipits (1-2 min.) from movies and TV shows.

3) Partner Work
Short activities (2-3 min.): practice vocab, re-tells, creating a new
ending to a story, inventing the next event/detail in a story,
reading, predicting the next event in a reading. My goal is a partner-
type activity every 15-20 min.

4) READ!
If you are reading engaging and interesting pieces, reading is very
low-energy / low-stress. Read with your classes!

5) Use a curriculum that is easy to use and requires little to no
prep! I may be a little biased, but the Cuéntame series is incredibly
teacher-friendly. Daily comprehensive lesson plans are provided,
including gestures, pqa, story-asking outlines, and concentrated
readings. To see/practice with the curricula, go to the ‘free
downloads’ at

6) Use any OTHER source that will provide compelling, contextualized,
comprehensible input.

Hope this helps-

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