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Is Your Child a Right Brain Dominant Learner?

by Sarah K Major February 03, 2016 2 Comments

Is Your Child a Right Brain Dominant Learner?

In the educational world we love to sort and categorize. It is not a bad thing; frequently it helps us begin to understand in more depth. The danger in categorizing when it comes to people is that we are complex -- none of us are exactly like any other person. We cannot classify children as either wholly left or right-brained learners. There are so many overlaps in tendencies, and much about brain development depends on the child’s personal experiences. Carla Hannaford, neurophysiologist and educator, in her book The Dominance Factor, has identified 15 profiles in which the gestalt hemisphere of the brain is dominant. While no two children learn exactly the same way, it is very helpful to study the various profiles so we can identify what these profiles have in common when it comes to strengths and challenges in learning.

Characteristics of Gestalt/Right-Brain Dominant Learners

  • Learns best through movement
  • Will focus on whole picture
  • Needs emotional relevance to self
  • Needs to see and hear the whole image/sound in order to learn
  • Prefers not to have step by step directions
  • Works best when understanding the desired end product and intuitively does what is appropriate
  • Exhibits good memory for images and whole concepts
  • Might need to close eyes or turn head away from teacher in order to process learning
  • Learns best with 3-D / hands-on
  • Needs to move while processing new information, but with very little external stimulation that would distract
  • Needs quiet time alone, especially when processing new information
  • Appreciates seeing examples of what is required, hearing metaphors and associations when learning
  • Must be able to see, hear, move and or verbalize the whole context before learning details
  • Needs to learn kinesthetically (using their hands) to process learning
  • Quickly grasps the main idea
  • Is often highly intuitive
  • Picks up on the intention and emotion of the teacher while learning
  • Needs to physically process what he is learning
  • Learner will see the whole picture but might have difficulty breaking it down into a sequence of words in order to express what he sees
  • Learner might have trouble explaining how he arrived at an answer once he’s solved it (such as in math problems when directed to show his work)
  • Might reverse or transpose letters or numbers
  • Although he might quickly grasp the main idea, he may have great difficulty in communicating the details in a linear way (logical sequence of steps)
  • May have difficulty with penmanship
  • May have difficulty listening to a lesson unless he is able to look away or shut his eyes.
  • Might have difficulty with fine motor activities
  • May have a difficult time processing new learning and committing it to memory unless he has time to reflect without visual or verbal stimulation

Right-Brain Dominant Children Under Stress

  • May exhibit clumsy movement
  • Seeing and hearing details may become difficult
  • May have difficulty communicating
  • May have difficulty listening and remembering
  • Communication between the hemispheres may shut down

Helping the Right-Brain Dominant Learner Be More Whole-Brained

The goal in working with right-brain dominant learners is to help them access and use their logical/sequential hemisphere. It is the right-brain that enables them to quickly grasp the whole picture, but in order to communicate to others what they see, they must learn how to verbalize their insights. Some strategies that Dr. Hannaford recommends using and practicing if you are a gestalt learner:

  • Make lists
  • Prioritize tasks
  • Use flow charts to organize information
  • Practice breaking down a task into details
  • Work on time management
  • Determine to finish a task once begun
  • Practice using objective measurements rather than relying on instinct.
  • Analyze decisions and enumerate reasons for choosing as you did
  • Evaluate the reasons behind decisions and lay them out in order of importance
  • Use visual maps to show relationships between concepts
  • Practice sequences when you communicate, such as “there are three points I’d like to make. One…”
  • After looking at a whole picture, begin to closely observe details in the picture

The wonderful thing about how our brains are made is that they are elastic; we can begin to strengthen connections that once were not very strong. We can exercise and practice with tasks we find difficult at first so that in time we are using a whole brain approach.

The more we present new concepts in a whole brain fashion, the easier the process will be for children and the less stress they will experience. Some simple changes can be made in our teaching routine to accommodate these learners and help them grow into more versatile learners.

How to teach new concepts in a whole-brain fashion

One idea for teaching new concepts in a whole brain fashion includes putting steps for solving math problems to simple tunes. Another is to allow time for children to illustrate when they are thinking about before writing the required assignment. For children who find it difficult to communicate what they’ve learned, have them draw pictures of what they learned and then explain the picture to you. Before asking them to write anything, teach gestalt learners how to brainstorm a visual map of the points they want to make. Or, for a more tactile approach, give children little square of paper to write on. The first paper will contain the topic they want to write about. On each of the other papers, they will write a main point. Finally, on the last paper, they will write the ending. Once the papers are filled, the tactile learner may arrange the papers in the order they want to write and refer to them as they work.

Sarah K Major
Sarah K Major


Sarah's absolute belief in every child’s ability to learn, and her passion to empower the child by supporting his/her own unique giftedness have fueled her life’s work and provided a new pathway for children to succeed academically.