Monday, October 4, 2010

Metacognition Lesson was a HUGE Success!

“I’m sorry, but we have to stop for recess,” I explained.  The response from my students was a resounding, “AWWWWWW, can’t we finish this first?!”  Wow, what a great thing to hear from 2nd graders!

The Lesson

My last post was about my idea for this lesson.  The lesson began with a review of what students already know about how the brain learns and remembers.  I reminded them how the brain is able to remember more when it can ‘tie’ the new information to existing knowledge.  After using arms, hands, and fingers to explain neurons, axons, and dendrites, (as demonstrated on a DVD by Dr. Donna Wilson of the BrainSMART program). I then whipped out the pipe cleaners for the hands-on demonstration.

Pipe Cleaners

I gave each student 3 pipe cleaners to twist together for the axons. Their little fingers diligently twisted away in anticipation of the project to come.  I reminded them to leave the ends untwisted to represent the dendrites.  Thus set, we gleefully proceeded to build our structure.

Putting it all Together

We began by saying the name of our town.   Our first axon was labeled “Our Town.”  Then each student was able to contribute something to build onto our expanding structure of ‘neural pathways.’  Every student added an axon to the structure.  It went something like this:
Our Town, Our School, Peach Orchard, Buffalo, Oklahoma
Oklahoma, Native Americans, Buffalo, USA, World
USA, North American Continent, Eagle
North American Continent, South America
South America, Rainforest, Amazon, Animals
Amazon, Nile, Egypt, World
Rainforest, Frogs
Frogs, Bullfrog


Soon we had an excellent visual representation of neural pathways established so far this year.  Several pathways to any subject are evident.  Students are very excited at the prospect of adding to our brain ‘structure’ throughout the year.

Location, Location

Finally we had to decide where to locate our structure of ‘neural pathways’ in the classroom.  One student thought it would be a good idea to place the structure near the goal banners they created at the beginning of the year.  What a fantastic idea!  The structure is now suspended low from the ceiling within easy reach of students... right below the students' goals.


I can’t express the success of this lesson enough.  If you’re looking for a way to teach metacognition, give pipe cleaners a try!


  1. Diane,
    This lesson is amazing! I will definitely be trying this one in my future classroom or in my student teaching next semester! I am Elementary Education student at the College of St. Benedict in Minnesota. I am in a English/Language Arts Pedagogy class right now and I was required to find and follow a blog as well as start my own. I was going to name my blog "For the Love of Teaching," so I typed it in and came across your blog. I have been reading and following your posts and just want to say that I love your ideas and honestly about teaching!

  2. Thank you Jamie! Good luck with your teaching career. With your enthusiasm, I'm sure you'll be fantastic. Did you settle on a blog name?

  3. The brain is so amazing. I am definitely going to try this lesson. Awesome!

  4. I love this lesson! I am trying to put together a unit on the brain, growth mindset, and mindfulness. Can you explain a little more about how they contributed to the structure? Did you tell them to all write something to relate to our town? Thanks!!

    1. Hi Anne,
      We started with our school and went from there with their connections. From then on we added to the brain as they learned new content and discovered connections to things they had already learned. I hope this helps!