The Brain


Learning Goal

Students will learn about the two systems of the brain: the fight-or-flight amygdala and the thoughtful prefrontal cortex.

Learning Objectives

By the end of the lessons, students will be able to:

  • Describe the lizard brain and identify situations when this part of the brain is used
  • Describe the wizard brain and identify situations when this part of the brain is used

Learning Summary

This week’s lesson introduces two basic parts of the brain: the lizard brain–aka the amygdala–and the wizard brain–aka prefrontal cortex. We do not expect you to become an expert in neuroscience to teach this lesson.

This lesson starts with a mindfulness activity where students learn to calm their bodies by pushing down on their chair, pulling up on their chair, and finally dangling their arms. In the introduction you teach students about the lizard and wizard brains. The lizard brain, responsible for processing threats and is activated in strong emotional situations, is often referred to as the fight-or-flight response. The wizard brain is responsible for complex thought, planning, decision-making, impulse control, and self-awareness. A follow-up activity provides students an opportunity to decide which part of their brain they would use with different scenarios. Students end by reflecting in their journals.

CASEL Competencies

Self-awareness: The ability to accurately recognize one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior. The ability to accurately assess one’s strengths and limitations, with a well-grounded sense of confidence, optimism, and a "growth mindset."

Self-management: The ability to successfully regulate one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in different situations — effectively managing stress, controlling impulses, and motivating oneself. The ability to set and work toward personal and academic goals.

Decision-making: The ability to make constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions based on ethical standards, safety concerns, and social norms. The realistic evaluation of consequences of various actions, and a consideration of the well-being of oneself and others.

Classroom Teaching Example