How the Brain Grows


Learning Goal

Students will understand the basics of how the brain changes and grows (i.e., neuroplasticity).

Learning Objectives

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

  • Explain how the brain is capable of constantly learning new skills throughout their entire lifetime
  • Students will be able to describe what neuroplasticity means
  • Experience the process of creating a new neural pathway by learning a new skill

Learning Summary

Our brains create new neural pathways throughout our entire lives—this is called neuroplasticity. These pathways allow us to access thoughts, skills, feelings, and memories. We have billions of neurons that connect to one another to make these learning pathways. The more a skill is practiced, the stronger that connection. When you stop practicing, your brain decides it is no longer important and it lets those connections weaken.

In this lesson, students start with a mindful moment in which they use the acronym STOP to focus: Standing/Sitting tall and breathing; Tuning into their body; Observing their surroundings; and thinking of Possibilities. You then lead students in a discussion on the basics of neuroplasticity. Then, students learn a new skill (choose from a list of options or, if you have your own skill you want to teach, this is a great opportunity to bring in your interests). Following the activity, students reflect on how it feels to learn something new. Over the course of the week, students reflect in their journal on how their new skill development progresses.

computer icon    Online Teaching Tips for How the Brain Grows

This lesson does not require any major modifications for online learning. Based on your class, for the Grow Your Brain, Learn a Skill activity, select an option in advance. Option 1 cannot be done virtually but is a great at-home activity to try out!

Select one of the stretch-your-brain options (or come up with your own) that you know students can do at their homes.

For a recorded delivery, select one of the stretch-your-brain options (or come up with your own) that you know students can do at their homes during their own time and then journal about.

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