How to Rewire Your Brain

Show here? Brain power!

October 5, 2011

Even though the Weekly Muse kind of fell through (I plan on bringing it back, though), I used a similar exercise with my ESL students.

For example, after going over the week’s vocabulary and grammar lesson, I usually ask random students to use one of the new words in a sentence. For their test this week, though, I had them do something different. We practiced first, so don’t worry. They weren’t caught unprepared.

I gave them TWO vocabulary words and they had to use it, along with either an adjective, adverb, or preposition (my choice) in a SINGLE sentence. The words could be odd mixes like “bean” and “fur.” It was their job to make sense out of the ideas. Why would I do something so seemingly sadistic, you may add?

Ever seen Chopped? Chefs compete by making dishes with mystery ingredients. Usually, one of the ingredients is a bit… odd. They might be asked to make a desert with ingredients like corn flour, raspberries, and sardines, for example. Check out the following scene for a better idea of what they do.

In many ways, it’s harder than Iron Chef. In Iron Chef, yes, you have to come up with several dishes that feature one secret ingredient, but on Chopped, you have to combine multiple ingredients that oftentimes are not obviously connected. How the hell do you make a main dish when you’re given pork chops, bananas, cilantro, and a small puppy named Earl? A great chef, though, can find the commonality in the food and whip up something extraordinary.

Likewise, I want my students to stop thinking so mechanically. I want them to not only learn the words, but start using them in more than just simple sentences on one topic. Talking and using a language in casual speech is the best way to learn it. It’s the same reason I put such odd things like “Atlantis” and “Mexican restaurant” in the Weekly Muse polls: to encourage people to pick the strangest combinations they can think of. Finding connections between seemingly unrelated thoughts and ideas is what helps the brain think differently.

Take the famous “Sherlock scan” often used by… uhm, Sherlock Holmes.

Sherlock Holmes by *Hideyoshi on deviantART

All the clues are there. All the parts to put together a sentence, or a story, are present in the world. It’s just a matter of training yourself to find the links and put together something that didn’t exist before. Sherlock doesn’t notice anything out of the ordinary, though having a background in science and anatomy helps. Likewise, finding links between apparently different words, finding a sentence to use them in, forces my students to find those connections so new words get easier to integrate. They just need the grammatical rules to put their work together.

In essence, using dissimilar topics forces their brain to adapt faster and faster. A time limit for tests also helps.

Now go out and build those neural biceps!

And now, let’s flex those muscles by combining INTENTIONAL comedy with George Lucas’ meddling into our childhood dreams.

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