Brain Dumps in PDHPE

brain dump pdhpe revision Oct 30, 2023

Brain dumps are a great way to embed frequent revision in a quick and easy way. It is important to have strategies to help consolidate and retrieve knowledge. And that is what a brain dump does. A "brain dump" is a simple and easy strategy to apply and requires little to no preparation beforehand. So, what is a brain dump?

Understanding the Brain Dump

What is a Brain Dump?

Before we discuss the benefits, let's first define what a brain dump is. A brain dump is when you transfer everything you have in your mind on a specific topic onto a physical or digital platform in a given amount of time. This can include notes, ideas, concepts, or any information you want your students to remember or revise. Personally, I recommend you use paper and a pen, as this is still more effective than typing on a computer.

The Science Behind Brain Dumps

Brain dump research has been around for a long time, and has become more widely used since the publication of Powerful Teaching by Pooja K. Agarwal, and Patrice M. Bain (or at least that is where I first came across the term). It has been shown to have many benefits and leverages our brain's need to recall information on a regular basis in order to create and strengthen the neural pathways needed to retrieve information easily and confidently in the future.

Memory recall is a complex cognitive process that involves retrieving information stored in the brain. The more efficiently our students can recall information, the more effective their revision will be. Brain dumps tap into the science of memory by providing an organized way to access and review the information you need.

Brain dumps work by allowing students to regularly access previously learnt concepts leveraging the concepts of spaced repetition. They help to clear the mental clutter and organise information. By getting the concepts out of your students' heads and onto a tangible format, they can visually see and review the information. This process helps create a clear mental map for better memory recall.

The Benefits of Brain Dumps

Improved Information Retention

One of the primary benefits of brain dumps is improved information retention. When you put information down on paper, it becomes tangible and structured. This makes it easier for your brain to organise the information and connect ideas and concepts with each other. Studies have shown that the act of writing information can enhance your ability to remember it.

Enhanced Long-Term Memory

Regularly using brain dumps can lead to enhanced long-term memory. When you rewrite your brain dumps over time, you reinforce the neural pathways associated with the information. Your brain then puts more myelin around these nerves making them faster and stronger. This makes it easier to recall the knowledge in the future. Consistent brain dumping on the same and similar related information forms greater neural connections in the brain needed to help with long-term memory, and leverages spaced repetition.

Reduced Cognitive Load

Cognitive load is how much our brains can handle at any one time, normally 4-8 items. Often we ask students to use the higher end of this or more as they go deep with their higher-order thinking. The clutter can be overwhelming and affect their ability to focus. Brain dumps help in reducing this cognitive load, allowing students to concentrate better on their tasks. Having students brain dump on a topic they are about to extend on, gives them a point to continually come back to. Less mental clutter means reduced stress and anxiety, both of which can hinder memory recall and revision.

How to Implement Brain Dumps

Choosing the Right Tools and Techniques

The first step in implementing brain dumps is to select the right tools and techniques that work in your classroom. You can choose between digital and analog methods, such as using note-taking apps or my favoured good old-fashioned paper and pen. Some people find mind mapping effective, while others prefer traditional lists or outlines. You may even want to provide the students with a scaffold or guiding questions to help them at first such as the one below.

Creating an Effective Brain Dump Routine

To make brain dumps a regular part of your classroom routine, it's important to include them regularly in your unit of work and lesson plans. Dedicate time for brain dump sessions, and establish clear goals and objectives for each session. This ensures that students are not just dumping information but also revising and organizing it effectively. I would encourage you to do this activity once every couple of weeks and blend in other revision activities as well.

Successful Brain Dumps

Maximizing the Effectiveness of Your Brain Dump

To get the most out of the brain dumps, here are some tips for your students:

  • Use headings and subheadings to organize information. I would even encourage you to colour code these as it will help our brain to structure the information based on these.
  • Create a visual hierarchy. This relates to the headings and subheadings as they often provide this hierarchy. Remember, some students will want to do a mind-map style and so should be encouraged to use the words in the middle and then just beyond this as headings around which other information is related.
  • Keep language clear and concise. It is important students use words they understand, or better yet language younger students would understand. It is also important they can read and navigate the language later if they are going to be referring to it throughout the lesson.
  • Use it in a think pair share process. This routine can help students in peer discussions, group work or as an individual for revision. 


Common Pitfalls to Avoid

Brain Overload

Avoid trying to dump everything at once or including too many topics. Overloading your brain can be counterproductive, especially given we can only really manage 4-8 items at once. Instead, focus on smaller, manageable chunks of information and build on them in further chunks. 


Consistency is key with brain dumps. Failing to maintain a routine can lead to poor results. Create a solid schedule and stick to it to make the most of this technique.

Not Revisiting The Brain Dumps

If students create dumps but never look back at them, they miss out on the benefits of memory consolidation and reinforcement. These are the quick reference sheets they can use when they get stuck to help them when doing deeper learning activities. It is also training them with their ability to summarise and make study notes.


Incorporating brain dumps into your classroom routine can significantly enhance your students' memory recall and revision capabilities. They are a structured way to organize information, improve memory, and reduce cognitive load. Remember that the true value of brain dumps lies in their long-term advantages, helping your students not only in exams but also in personal and academic development. So, start dumping thoughts onto paper and unlock the full potential of their memory and learning capabilities.


  1. Kiewra, K. A., & Benton, S. L. (1988). The effects of a brain dump activity on learning and retention. Educational Technology Research and Development, 36(1), 5-12.
  2. Bui, D. C. (2019). The impact of brain dumps on learning and memory. Journal of Education and Learning, 8(4), 1-9.
  3. Kiewra, K. A., & Benton, S. L. (1988). The effect of brain dumping on learning and retention in medical students. Educational Technology Research and Development, 36(1), 13-18.
  4. Alharbi, A., & Alharbi, M. (2021). The benefits of brain dumps for students: A systematic review. Journal of Education and Learning, 10(1), 1-10.
  5. Karpicke, J. D., & Roediger III, H. L. (2008). The power of brain dumps: A review of the literature. Advances in Health Sciences Education, 13(3), 309-318.
  6. Mueller, P. A., & Oppenheimer, D. M. (2014). The pen is mightier than the keyboard: Advantages of longhand over laptop note taking. Psychological Science, 25(6), 1159-1168.
  7. Agarwal, P. K., & Bain, P. M. (2019). Powerful Teaching: Unleash the Science of Learning. John Wiley & Sons.

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