Strengthen your Brain with Sudoku!


At Yellow Wood we LOVE playing games to improve cognitive skills. One of my favorites is Sudoku. We also play a game called ColorKu, which is a “color” version of sudoku! It’s a great brain challenge, especially for those who have mastered the regular Sudoku game!

I'm sure you're aware that sudoku is a great "brain game" or "mental floss". But what exactly does sudoku do for your brain? It improves some very specific cognitive skills! 

#1 Working memory

Working memory is the "post it" for your brain. You use it every day for many tasks! Sudoku improves working memory because it requires you to:

  • hold onto the step you’re completing
  • remember which numbers are on the board and missing

You’re working memory might be weak if:

  • You struggle to remember what you’re looking for or what step you're on
  • You need to write in each possible number in order to keep up with the puzzle, rather than holding those options in your head!

#2 Visualization

Visualization is the ability to see numbers, patterns, and images in your mind! Sudoku strengthens your visualization skills because: 

  • It requires you to picture in your mind what numbers go in the box, even if they aren't there yet
  • You also have to look across the board and visualize where else that number could land

If you cannot “visualize” where the pieces might go, you’ll struggle to complete a more complicated sudoku puzzle. Visualization is also a skill needed in math, reading, and so many other daily tasks!

#3 Critical Thinking & Executive Function Skills

While playing sudoku, you must logically think of why a piece goes where it does. If you make a decision and it’s not correct, you’ll mess up the whole puzzle! I find many times students want to rush to fill out the board, but do not double and triple check their choices, or simply guess what looks correct at the time.

Playing a sudoku puzzle daily will help improve your critical thinking and executive functioning because: 

  • You'll practice working to self-check your decisions (AKA, self control and self monitoring!)
  • You learn to make those decisions logically rather than guessing (AKA, critical thinking!)


There are also ways to add another layer to your game to make it even more of a brain workout! Here are a few tips for getting the most out of Sudoku:

#1 Play a board game version of the game! 

It forces you to hold onto those numbers in your mind to complete a step without writing down the numbers, which will help improve both working memory and visualization!

#2 Verbalize your steps!

In Success Training, we require students to explain each move they want to make before they can make it! They must tell us what they want to do, and WHY that specific spot is the only option.

#3 Play the Colorku version!

With this game, your brain has to keep track of which colors are needed in a box, row, or line. While they may sound easier than numbers, for many it’s more challenging because our brains don’t visualize and hold onto color names as easily as with numbers 1-9. But, if a child struggles with the number version of sudoku, they may find the color version easier! Try both and see!


Visual Vocabulary


Part 3: Vocabulary Curriculum (SERIES: Before You Throw the Book at 'em)

and a FREE Printable!

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Today I’m excited to share with you my absolute favorite ways to teach vocabulary! I think we’d all agree that learning vocabulary is an important part of English class, but is usually a frustrating and laborious one. At Yellow Wood, I’ve developed a fool-proof method for helping students memorize new vocabulary. Here are the steps:

1. Choose a vocabulary program geared toward visual learners!

At Yellow Wood, we use a variety of curricula for vocabulary, but they all have one thing in common: they were created for visual learners. But you might ask, how do these help auditory or kinesthetic learners? I’ll explain!

Each program we use has a picture AND a sentence that goes along with their vocab word that are aimed at helping you memorize the word and it’s meaning. The picture is a great aid for visual learners, and the sentence is the aid for auditory learners! Its very important though that you practice memorizing vocabulary using BOTH methods. You want your student to be well rounded in their skills, so studying vocabulary using both visual and auditory cues will help exercise both sides of the brain, regardless of their preference.

When introducing new vocabulary, make sure discuss the word and it’s meaning, what the picture depicts, and how the example sentence fits with the vocabulary word. Handing students a list of words to “memorize” is rarely fruitful or productive! Instead, walk them through the process of learning these words.

Here are a few options to choose from that we LOVE! (These links are affiliate links. We receive a small profit from any that are purchased using this link. But don't worry, we only suggest products we truly love!)

2. Vocabulary Flip Books! (Printable)

Once the new vocabulary words have been introduced, help your student make a flip book for studying purposes. At Yellow Wood, we keep a spiral notebook for vocabulary and cut out and paste the new flip books into the notebook each week. You could also create lapbooks of vocabulary using file folders!

When our students create flip books, they are given the option of using a picture or a sentence to help memorize the word! This allows them to navigate and choose what method works best for them. We still study in class using both methods so that students are familiar with both the sentence and picture.

Using these flip books negate the issue of losing flash cards or index cards, and are less cumbersome and more conducive to studying than using the book! It also gives students an opportunity to perfect their neat handwriting and drawing skills each week!

To make this step even easier for you, click below to get our FREE printable Vocabulary Flipbook Template! 

3. Play a matching game!

Another way we study vocabulary is by printing the words and meanings on cardstock, and then cutting each out and mixing them on a table. We then work as a group or individually to match the words with the correct meaning. This is a great timed activity too! You can keep track of the time it takes so that students can see their progress and also try to beat their record!

If your kids love computer games, you can also use quizlet (for FREE!) and play some great games with vocabulary words! Here's an example of a word list already in quizlet's system for the SAT Word power book listed above! You can also create your own word lists.

4. Play Hangman!

You’ll probably laugh when I say that hangman is a GREAT way to study vocabulary, especially the spelling of vocabulary words! Last year I worked with high schoolers on their vocabulary each week. These students all struggled with spelling. We played hangman with their vocabulary words several times a week, and by the end of the school year they were AMAZING at guessing the words with just a couple letters on the board. What changed? Their ability to visualize the words was much stronger than the beginning of the year. This bled into their daily spelling abilities too!

5. Play Pictionary or Charades!

Another fun game to play is pictionary or charades! This is great for kinesthetic learners especially. By drawing the picture of the vocabulary word, or acting it out, students are able to better retain the information!

6. Not Homeschooled? No problem!

Even if you’re not homeschooling, or you already have a vocabulary program, you can implement these methods! Any vocabulary or spelling list can be studied using the ideas I listed above. In fact, we often use flip books for science and history terms, foreign language vocabulary, and more!


Show Your Smarts with Working Memory!

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Today I’ll be sharing about one of my favorite cognitive skills! Is it too nerdy to say I have a favorite cognitive skill? Oh well, I do! It’s working memory! This skill does SO much for us if it’s strong and has an impact on our whole person if it’s weak! A student who has strong working memory is going to be quicker, more accurate, and more focused on the tasks given to them! Many students who struggle with this cognitive skill are very smart but aren’t able to show it because their working memory weakness is holding them back!

Working memory acts as the “post it” in your brain. It’s responsible for holding onto information long enough for you to use it. It helps you by keeping that information while you make decisions, answer math problems, remember driving directions, cooking from a recipe, and countless other daily tasks!

Working memory is actually 3 part of the brain “working together” to function: verbal short term memory, visual-spatial short term memory, and central executive. These three create a “video” for your brain to play back, which allows you to finish the task at hand.

Your working memory actually increases naturally as you get older, or at least it should. In kindergarten children should be able to hold onto 2 or so items in their working memory. By the time we reach adulthood, we should be able to hold 5-7 items, but this is often not the case! I’ve worked with many middle school and high school students who struggle with THREE items! Just imagine how this affects their learning. In fact, it’s said that working memory is a better indicator of intelligence than the IQ test!

When a student has a poor working memory, daily tasks become difficult, frustrating, and sometimes impossible. Following a morning “get ready” routine, learning long division, remembering spelling rules while writing… all of these tasks require working memory. As we get older, especially once students hit middle school and high school, teachers and curriculum expect a certain level of attention and capability which often require several steps and a strong working memory.

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Here are some signs and symptoms to watch out for when working memory is weak. Keep in mind that many of these symptoms are also symptoms of other cognitive weaknesses. If you think your child has MANY of these symptoms, I encourage you to reach out and look into our evaluation process! We test for cognitive skills, primitive reflexes, and more, and can help you find the best methods for overcoming learning challenges.

Our Working Memory Workshop OR our Working Memory Workbook is a great place to start improving this skill today! You’ll gain more information on how working memory affects and helps learning, AND you’ll receive a workbook full of exercises to improve this cognitive skills! Check it out below!


Want to try it out before purchasing? Fill out the form below for your FREE working memory game “Echo Echo”, just one of many exercises in the full workbook!

*Hint! You'll get a coupon too for the workshop or workbook!! 

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