Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day…

…For Teaching ELL, ESL, & EFL

Guest Post: Teaching Fifth Graders About A “Growth Mindset” & “The Brain As A Muscle”


'Mindset + Mindstorms' photo (c) 2011, Benjamin Chun - license:

Matthew Becker is a fifth grade teacher in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He taught two of the lessons in my book, Helping Students Motivate Themselves, and has written this short guest post about his experience.

You can also find more information about those topics at The Best Resources For Showing Students That They Make Their Brain Stronger By Learning and at The Best Resources On Helping Our Students Develop A “Growth Mindset”.

Teaching About A “Growth Mindset” & “The Brain As A Muscle” To Fifth Graders

by Matthew Becker

This summer I became aware of Larry Ferlazzo’s blog and the books he has authored on the subject of helping students to become self-driven and self-motivated learners. I was immediately intrigued, since they seemed to be related to my current reading interests and more importantly, directly tied to student learning. Upon contacting Larry through Twitter, I took his advice and purchased his book “Helping Students Motivate Themselves: Practical Answers to Classroom Challenges.”

During the first two weeks of school, I implemented two of the lessons detailed in his book. I first presented “The Brain is Like a Muscle,” and two days later I followed it up with the “Grit and Growth Mindset” lesson plan. I chose these lessons for two reasons. First, they supported the idea of developing a growth mindset, which I had read about earlier this summer in Dr. Carol Dweck’s book “Mindsets.” Second, I thought the lessons were set up to make learning concrete for my students with minimal effort to alter them to match the learning levels of a fifth grade classroom.

My students and I interacted with interesting articles, videos, charts, and quotes from notable people; they were fascinated by the information and the various materials. Students participated in paired readings, turn and talk discussions, summarized and drew visualizations of what they read, and shared their learning with the whole class. We worked on important reading skills and had great discussions.

I altered the lessons slightly and assisted in the reading of the articles by adding explanations to help their understanding and meet their reading levels. The article for the “Grit and Growth Mindset” lesson was very challenging, so I used to simplify the vocabulary and make the readability more appropriate. It worked well with a little editing, while maintaining the integrity of the article, and without diminishing any of the learning that took place.

As a result of implementing these lessons my students are now able to explain how their brains will grow new neurons and connections if they “exercise” it through learning. This excites them. They are also able to articulate the importance of persevering when learning gets messy and challenging, and by doing so, they would become better learners. They get it! I truly believe that the foundation for some great learning is being set for the school year.

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.


  1. I read Carol Dweck’s Mindset several years ago after reading an excerpt for a class I was taking at the time. It is one of the most significant books I have read in a long time and it clicks with my philosophy of education. Since then I teach my students “How to Fail” the first day of class! It is really a primer on Mindset Theory for middle schoolers. I refer to it the rest of the school year. My students a few years ago even created a bulletin board “Get into a Growth Mindset” with their new teacher—proving that they remembered and saw the significance of the ideas.

    You can see parts of the lesson here:

    In my new position of “Literacy Coach” at my school I am working to teach the teachers and staff—unfortunately there are some teachers with a “Fixed Mindset” who say things like “My kids can’t do that”. That phrase is like nails on a chalkboard to me! To encourage a Growth Mindset in students we must have a Growth Mindset ourselves. I am working on staff development activities that will hopefully do that. Anyone have any ideas or resources to point me in the right direction I would be much appreciated—of course I already have Larry’s books that are a great resource!!

    • Marie,

      I took a peek at your lesson through the link you provided. It looks well done. I think it is important to talk with students about the growth mindset. As a teacher of fifth graders, I want them to feel successful when they are having a challenging time with new learning. When I see frustration, I am asking them to show their grit and work through it. We talk about how to attack their new learning and I have them talk through a plan. As they work through it I thank them for their effort and look for evidence of learning and point it out to them. I am beginning to see that attitude take hold in some of my students and it makes me proud.

      As far as teaching teachers the growth mindset, I think the best way is to share your successes in the classroom with those students who “can’t do this, or can’t do that.” I think if we can show and talk about the successes, they will ask how we did it and that opens the door.

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *.

Skip to toolbar