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Using Novelty in Lessons

Using Novelty in Lessons

Part of our success as a species can be attributed to the brain’s persistent interest in novelty, that is, changes occurring in the environment. The brain is constantly scanning its environment for stimuli. When an unexpected stimulus arises—such as a loud noise from an empty room—a rush of adrenaline closes down all unnecessary activity and focuses the brain’s attention so it can spring into action. Conversely, an environment that contains mainly predictable or repeated stimuli (like some classrooms?) lowers the brain’s interest in the outside world and tempts it to turn within for novel sensations.

Using novelty does not mean that the teacher needs to be a stand-up comic or the classroom a three-ring circus. It simply means using a varied teaching approach that involves more student activity. Here are a few suggestions for incorporating novelty in your lessons.

  • Humor. There are many positive benefits that come from using humor in the classroom at all grade levels. See the Practitioner’s Corner in Chapter 2 of How the Brain Learns, 4th edition, which suggests guidelines and beneficial reasons for using humor.
  • Movement. When we sit for more than twenty minutes, our blood pools in our seat and in our feet. By getting up and moving, we recirculate that blood. Within a minute, there is about 15 percent more blood in our brain. We do think better on our feet than on our seat! Students sit too much in classrooms, especially in secondary schools. Look for ways to get students up and moving, especially when they are verbally rehearsing what they have learned.
  • Multi-Sensory Instruction. Today’s students are acclimated to a multi-sensory environment. They are more likely to give attention if there are interesting, colorful visuals, if they can interact with appropriate technology, and if they can walk around and talk about their learning.
  • Quiz Games. Have students develop a quiz game or other similar activity to test each other on their knowledge of the concepts taught. This is a common strategy in elementary classrooms, but underutilized in secondary schools. Besides being fun, it has the added value of making students rehearse and understand the concepts in order to create the quiz questions and answers.
  • Music. Although the research is inconclusive, there are some benefits of playing music in the classroom at certain times during the learning episode.


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