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Differentiating the BrainWaves lessons

Differentiation is a common tool utilised within teaching. Teachers are constantly thinking of ways they can provide support for students who are struggling to access aspects of their lessons. Additionally, effective differentiation also requires teachers to consider how they can stretch the thinking and learning of the higher-level students in the class.

So, how can the BrainWaves lessons be effectively differentiated to ensure every student can access the learning and reach their potential? School Research Liaison Manager, Abbie Simpkin shares her thoughts…


The BrainWaves lessons have been described as being ‘low floor, high ceiling’. Generally, this means that the content of the lessons should be relatively clear and simple for students to access, but that there is also scope for high-level thinking and discussion depending on the student’s capabilities and engagement level. I want to share with you a few ways we have already provided differentiation strategies in the BrainWaves lessons and also share my view on some other versatile strategies for differentiation.

Scaffolding and modelling suggestions

Optional differentiation strategies using scaffolding and modelling are suggested in the slide notes and teacher notes of the BrainWaves lessons. For example, in the lesson, “Boosting your mood” it is suggested that the teacher spends time modelling the “How do these activities make you feel?” task themselves in order to help students understand how to use the rating scales. Another example is in the lesson “The teenage brain”, when the teacher notes suggest using the analogy that neural pruning is like deleting old apps from your phone.

Intentional forming of student groups

Many of the activities in the BrainWaves lessons require students to discuss their thoughts in groups. For example, in “The teenage brain”, students are asked to discuss in groups what sort of behaviours and actions a teenager with both low and high levels of three different hormones might exhibit after being told facts about each of the hormones. This requires skills of comprehension and inference.

One way that you could support students who might struggle with these types of activities is to put them in groups with students who have higher level literacy skills. Hearing from other students can be useful in helping students to consider new, creative ideas and to clarify concepts. You could ensure fact slides are visible so that students can refer to it during their discussion.

Effective questioning

One of the key techniques you most likely use every single lesson to differentiate for your students is questioning. Teachers know their students best, they tend to gauge the audience and formulate questions that are phrased at the cognitive level of the students, allowing students to access the learning at their individual level. Questioning can be used to cultivate curiosity and thinking that stretches the minds of students and instil a sense of wonder which can keep students engaged and encourage them to participate in the discussion. This is exactly what we want during the BrainWaves lessons!

Using the glossary

A glossary is provided in the BrainWaves Personal Workbook that students can be signposted to to support their understanding of the key vocabulary used throughout the lessons. You could try putting the key vocabulary for each lesson on the board and taking a few moments at the start of each lesson to clarify the definitions of words the students are already familiar with.

We hope you now have some idea of the many ways you could choose to differentiate the BrainWaves lessons for your students. We look forward to hearing about how you can use these lessons to engage and stretch the thinking of the students in your class.

About the author

Abbie Simpkin is a School Research Liaison Manager at BrainWaves, responsible for supporting schools on the BrainWaves Research Programme.  She was previously a music teacher at Key Stage 3-5.