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.

computer icon    Online Teaching Tips for Gratitude

There are some useful videos found under the lesson variations for visuals on the brain. Also, make sure to be able to show the printout from the lesson plan showing the brain diagram.
For the Different Brains/Different Reaction activity, start by making sure students’ cameras are on. Come up with a hand gesture for the wizard brain and a different one for the lizard brain and teach the class.  Then, read the scenarios aloud and have students on the count of three show the symbol for which brain they think is being described. Once the hand symbols are shown, call on a few students to explain why they chose either the lizard brain or the wizard brain.
For a recorded option, consider having students make two columns on a piece of paper, lizard brain on one side and wizard brain on the other. After you read aloud each scenario for the Different Brains/Different Reaction activity, tell students to make a tally under which brain they think is being described.

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