Development of the Adolescent Brain | EL Education Curriculum

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ELA 2012 G7:M4A:U1

Development of the Adolescent Brain

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In this first unit, students are introduced the development of the adolescent brain. They first will learn the basic biology of the brain, focusing on three key aspects of brain development: the prefrontal cortex, the limbic system, and changing neurons. Through a variety of sources, including text, video, and interactive Web sites, they learn that the adolescent brain is growing in a dynamic and unique way. With each source, they will practice analyzing the main idea and supporting details. They also will compare how the same ideas are presented in text and visual formats. This prepares them for their mid-unit assessment, which centers on analyzing the main idea in a video and comparing the video to a text (SL.7.2 and RI.7.7).

After the mid-unit assessment, students will begin to examine more specifically, the effects of screen time on the developing brain. They will grapple with a challenging text, which will help them examine the possible positive and negative effects of being "plugged in." Through carefully designed close readings, students will continue to analyze the main idea and supporting details presented in this text while building their stamina and capacity for a complex text. To help personalize these difficult concepts, in each lesson students will return to an audio slideshow where they hear the voices of students who are immersed in the digital world. Then they read a profile of a student who typifies the positives and negative effects of being "plugged in." For the end of unit assessment, students will analyze the main idea and supporting ideas in a text that links digital media, brain development, and adolescent behavior (RI.7.1, RI.7.5, and RI.7.6).

Big Ideas & Guiding Questions

  • How is the adolescent brain changing?
  • Should screen time be limited? Why or why not?
  • How can I make an informed decision about an issue and then effectively argue my position? 
  • The teenage brain is in a period of dynamic growth and change that is unique to this stage of life.
  • Behavior shapes the physical structure of the brain, and the physiology of the brain affects behavior.
  • Researchers wonder how screen time affects the development of adolescents.

Content Connections

This module is designed to address English Language Arts standards as students read informational texts about adolescent brain development. This ELA module is designed to expose students to informational text from various sources and encourage the interaction with texts through multiple modalities (e.g. books, articles, electronic, digital). However, this ELA module does not supplant the regular science curriculum and instructional program at the local level aligned to the NYS Learning Standards in Science for this grade level. The informational text in this module intentionally incorporates Science concepts and themes to support potential cross-standards connections to this compelling content. These intentional connections are described below. 

NYS Learning Standards in Science:

Intermediate-Level Science Core Curriculum Guide Grades (5-8)

Standard 4: The Living Environment

Key Idea 1: Living Things are both similar to and different from each other and from nonliving things.

Performance Indicators 1.1; Major Understandings 1.1e, 1.1g, 1.1h

Performance Indicators 1.2; Major Understanding 1.2h

Key Idea 4: The continuity of life is sustained through reproduction and development.

Performance indicator 4.3 Major Understanding 4.3c


Big ideas and guiding questions are informed by the Next Generation Science Standards:

Science and Engineering Practices

The eight practices of science and engineering that the Framework identifies as essential for all students to learn and describes in detail are listed below:

8. Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information


Each unit is made up of a sequence of between 5-20 lessons. The “unit at a glance” chart in the curriculum map breaks down each unit into its lessons, to show how the curriculum is organized in terms of standards address, supporting targets, ongoing assessment, and protocols. It also indicates which lessons include the mid-unit and end-of-unit assessments.

Optional: Community, Experts, Fieldwork, Service, and Extensions


  • Invite a local researcher, psychologist, neurologist, or pediatrician to talk to the students about recent findings in the field of adolescent development.
  • Invite a local business person to talk about the role of technology in the workplace and its effects on productivity.
  • Invite a principal to talk about the pros and cons of integrating technology into the school.


  • Visit an fMRI research lab or scan center to see the neurological and brain imaging research first-hand.
  • Visit a public space to monitor the use of digital devices and the way technology affects the interactions between individuals.


Invite students to share their learning with community members or peers with a goal of educating their community about adolescent brain development through a pamphlet or visual display.

Optional Extensions 

  • Students could create a poster or presentation for their peers about the development of the teen brain and effective habits for caring for the growing brain.
  • Students could spend a week "screen free" and write a journal on their experience (this extension could also be done alongside Unit 2).
  • Students could write a short story centered on one of the individuals from the audio slideshow featured in Lessons 6-8. Then they could write an author's note that explains how they used the character's actions to illustrate their knowledge of the developing brain and how it may affect teenager behavior. They may also use the characters to illustrate the issues surrounding screen time. Unit 3 of Module 3A has lessons specifically designed to help students write a short story. They could be adapted for this activity.
  • Students could return to some of the texts from past modules to analyze the characters in light of their brain development. For example, students may explain how the characters' behavior reflects an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex or a propensity to seek novel information and thrills. Module 1, 2A, and 2B are particularly suited to this task.
  • Students could reflect on their own behavior and how it does or does not support their learning regarding adolescent brain development.

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