Lessons to Teach the Nervous System to Fifth Graders

Amaze students by demonstrating the power of the nervous system with illusions and other sense tests.
... Thomas Northcut/Photodisc/Getty Images

Learning about the nervous system can be an exciting endeavor for fifth graders as they explore its parts and functions. Lessons that include interactive play and projects provide an engaging way to learn about the brain, spinal cord and nerves and how each of these parts work together to help humans interact with their environment. Games demonstrate the power of our brain and help students understand how information is processed and used.

1 Three Parts of the Central Nervous System

The three parts of the central nervous system are the brain, spinal cord and nerves. Together, they make up the body’s communications system, collecting, carrying and interpreting information about the environment. They also make up the body’s control system, managing the signals that automate some processes, such as breathing and heart beating, and control conscious actions. Review an anatomy drawing of the central nervous system, and then discuss how information travels to and from the brain. You can have students work in teams to create a body trace on large paper, drawing and labeling parts of the central nervous system. Discuss with students the types of signal exchanges that occur when, for example, they fall off a bike and cut an elbow.

2 The Brain Divide

You can further explore the hub the central nervous system: the brain. Using a diagram, puzzle, worksheet or other visual aid, discuss the three main parts of the brain: cerebrum, cerebellum and brain stem. The largest part, the cerebrum, controls thinking, the five senses and memory. Students may be familiar with the bumps (gyri) and grooves (sulci) on the outtermost layer of the cerebrum (cerebral cortex). What they may not know, however, is that brains with more bumps can store more information. The cerebrum divides into the left and right hemispheres, which divide further into four lobes each. The left hemisphere controls reading, speech and other analytical functions. The right hemisphere controls emotions, creativity and other holistic functions. The cerebellum, located in the lower-base of the brain, controls movement and balance. Automatic functions like breathing and digestion happen in the brain stem, which connects the brain to the spinal cord.

3 Five Senses

The cerebrum is where the brain processes the five senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. Each sense helps us interpret the world around us, feeding information to the brain to process. A lesson on sight might include word searches or finding the differences between two similar images. For sound, you may want to download some sound effects and host a what’s-that-sound game show with students. Divide students into teams and have them guess what each sound is. You can add the sense of smell into your game by blindfolding players and asking them to identify odors, and a sense of touch by asking a blindfolded player to identify a material by a single touch.

4 Games

Extend your lessons on the nervous system to a series of games that challenge their senses and interpretations of the environment. For example, optical illusions may astound students by demonstrating how the brain fills gaps by making assumptions rather than interpreting the actual environment. You can also employ memory games, having students work in teams to create their own memory board games. They can be based on cards or verbal descriptions. You can also create a story, with one student starting the story with a single phrase or sentence. The next student must retell the previous parts and add to it until no one can remember it all.

Joanna Polisena has been writing professionally since obtaining a high school mentorship at her hometown's city newspaper. Her work has appeared in daily newspapers, an employment agency's monthly newsletter and various corporate multimedia productions. She earned an AA in letters, arts and sciences from Pennsylvania State University.