How to Engage Students in the Classroom

Posted by Jerry Doll on Thu, Mar, 08, 2012 @ 10:03 AM

Thinking BrainToday's blog post is being published with the permission of Joaquin Roca - a group process consultant (, co-founder of LeaderNation and Skillshare Master Teacher.

Thinking Preferences and Engaging Your Students (Education)

“If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.” – Abraham Maslow

"I never teach my pupils; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.” – Albert Einstein

The two quotes above are of the utmost importance when teaching. You have to understand that teaching is a job that requires you to fill your tool belt with a variety of tools. Because people learn differently, you will need to convey information in lots of different ways in order to create an environment where all of your students can learn. Some of these ways will require you to stretch out of your comfort zone.

The distinction between the left and right brain is familiar to most of us. The left brain is logical and concerned with reason while the right brain is creative and concerned with relationships. There’s another brain dichotomy, however, that’s less familiar: top versus bottom.

The bottom part of our brain is known as the limbic system. This is the oldest part of our brain and evolved at a time when our primary concern was survival and reacting quickly to our environment (think fight/flight instincts). Thinking that happens here tends to be very operational. The top part of our brain, the cerebral cortex, is more evolved. Thinking that happens in this part of the brain tends to be more strategic. The top left side of the brain (L1) uses logic and objective reasoning to process data. L1 thinkers seek to understand the essence of a problem. The top right side of the brain (R1) is oriented toward creativity, big picture thinking, and risk-taking.

R1 thinkers like to use pictures and metaphors to convey ideas and understand new information. As the logical, operational part of the brain, the bottom left (L2) uses reason as a survival mechanism creates. It lists and procedures. L2 thinkers like order and prefer to do things that are tried and true.

The bottom right side of the brain (R2) is operational and relational. To help us survive, this part of the brain learned empathy and the ability to work in groups. R2 thinkers are playful and pick up on non-verbal cues well. Understanding how your students process information is very valuable for teachers.

You should start by [assuming] your students are evenly distributed in terms of their thinking preferences. Do your best to accommodate all of the thinking preferences in your class. If you use lots of PowerPoint slides you might make your L2s very happy but you will lose your R1s unless you’ve added in some pictures and multi-media files. If you cover the strategic importance of your lesson and clearly show the benefits through logic, you will have lots of satisfied L1s, but you might lose the R2s if you don’t make a personal connection.

Here are some tips to create a lesson that appeals to the whole brain: For R1s you should show pictures and use color. Making analogies and allowing them to think expansively will keep them engaged. For L1s you want to satisfy their need for logic and action. Help them see the reason in what they are learning and how they can apply it in the real world. For R2s you want to create community and involve them in each other’s learning experiences.

Break the class into groups and have them work together to solve problems. Also give them time to introduce themselves to create a more collaborative climate. For L2s you want to give them lists of resources to fall back on. Let them know where they can go to find out more. Give them step by step procedures to follow. In the end you want to mix all of these different strategies together to create a learning environment that has something for everyone.  


Thanks to Joaquin Roca for this great article.  We appreciate him letting us repost it here on our blog!  Be sure to visit his website for more great insight.

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Topics: education, School, Classroom, joaquin roca, brain, thinking, teacher, students