Brain-Based Teaching with Clarity and Purpose

This article speaks to the value of stored experiences, clarity and word choice. It helps us understand why some teachers are so good at communicating.

Teacher clarity is a TOP 20 factor, which contributes to student achievement.

Here’s what they do:


Brief sentences,  (not long-winded ones) allow the brain time to process.

Here’s what to say:

“Okay, kids, here’s what’s next… Take in a deep breath… Please stand up…Now, if you like XYZ, raise your hand…”

Notice the short chunks and the pauses. It gives the student time to process. The younger the student, the more time needed for processing. It also creates a greater sense of anticipation (as long as you keep the pacing moving).


Use words that have strong  stored representations that are easily accessed. These statements invite students to conjure up just the right mental, physical or emotional representations within seconds (not minutes).

“Today we’ll be studying the War of 1776. Raise your hand if you have ever been so mad you could scream? If your hand’s now up in the air, please scream for 4 seconds!”

“How many of you can tell when something’s really wrong, and you really wanted to do something about it and you lost your temper? If this has happened to you, say stomp your feet 6 times!”

“Well, that’s what happened to the angry rebels who left Europe to come to America. They were so mad at the taxation, they trashed the Boston Harbor by dumping tea into it.”

Notice the words like “scream, trashed, rebels, dumping.” Those words trigger actions or sounds that boost comprehension.


Smart teachers also make it interactive. Allow students to create their own representations to teach a partner, so you can get a reality check on their meaning and accuracy.

But more importantly, we gave students a way to demonstrate, show and say the emotions that they needed to have to understand what ignited the flames for the Revolutionary war.

The Research behind it all

We think of a separate mind and body and motor. Another recent study shows an amazing connection: our language!

The study showed, using functional magnetic resonance imaging and recordings of event-related potentials, that “acoustic conceptual features” (the sounds that the word evokes) recruit auditory brain areas even when implicitly presented through visual words.

In other words, show the picture of a blaring horn, and the brain “hears” it in the auditory cortex. We see a mistletoe and “hear” a kiss. Some of our acoustic features are highly relevant (e.g.,”telephone”), ignited cell assemblies within one seventh of a second that were also activated by the sound perception of a ringtone. In the classroom, using sounds that kids recognize increases comprehension. It also makes it multi-sensory!

The results provide the first direct evidence for a link between perceptual and conceptual acoustic processing. They demonstrate that access to concepts involves a partial reinstatement of brain activity during the perception of objects.

Bridging the gap between the perceptual and conceptual systems, we investigated the neural representation of acoustic conceptual features during the recognition of visually presented object names. These findings stress the necessity of kids getting sensory experiences in

the relevant modalities to acquire rich, fully developed concepts of our physical and social world. This also means, conversely, that, “a lack of multimodal sensory experience would result in an impoverished development of conceptual representations.

This supports the idea of using prior learning, but also the value of field trips to build more representations.

The results show a strong parallel between the episodic, working memory systems and corresponding modality-specific sensory areas that were initially activated during encoding. Our brain is more cross- wired than we earlier thought!

Markus Kiefer,1 Eun-Jin Sim,1,2 Bärbel Herrnberger,1 Jo Grothe,1 and Klaus Hoenig. (2008) The Sound of Concepts: Four Markers for a Link between Auditory and Conceptual Brain Systems. The Journal of Neuroscience, November 19, 28(47):12224-12230;

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