Whole Brain Teaching

Whole brain teaching is a new "radical" idea to some, however it is nothing more than tried and true teaching practices, combined into a new approach.  Whole brain teaching combines direct instruction, , sharing and immediate feedback to become a new style of teaching.  Whole brain teaching surmounts to seven steps that a teacher incorporates into their everyday classroom.

Step 1: Class-Yes
The teacher of a whole brain classroom (WBC) uses this attention getter before beginning every class.  The teacher begins class by saying "class" any way he/she likes, and in turn the class is responsible for mimicking the teachers voice by responding yes.  Therefore, if the teacher says, "class, class, class, classy class!" The class must respond: "yes, yes, yes, yessy, yes!"  Once this step has been accomplished, the teacher moves on to step 2.

Step 2: Classroom Rules
Before beginning the actual "informative" part of each lesson, the teacher goes over the five classroom rules with the entire class. This is to ensure that everyone understands the rules, but it will also help the teacher in the end, if a student is not following rules.  The rules and gestures are as follow:
  • Follow directions quickly! (Make your hand shoot forward like a fish)
  • Raise your hand for permission to speak (raise hand, bring down to head and make a talking motion).
  • Raise your hand to leave your seat (raise hand, make a walking motion with fingers).
  • Make smart choices! (tap one finger to your temple as you say each word).
  • Keep your dear teacher happy! (hold up each thumb and index finger out like an "L" framing your face; bob your head back and forth with each word and smile really big!)
Step 3: Teach-OK
This is the informative part of the lesson.  Before beginning the teacher must divide the class into two groups, 1's and 2's the teacher in each pair will rotate each time.  Then the teacher begins to teach small sections of information, while incorporating gestures, songs, movements and chants.  When the teacher has finished a small portion of information he/she says to the class "Teach" and the class responds "OK!"  In turn the students turn to teach each other, mimicking the "lesson" taught by the teacher.  During this time the teacher observes the students' comprehension, if the teacher is not convinced the students understand the lesson, repeat this process. Otherwise, move to "class-yes" and begin another short lesson.

Step 4: Scoreboard Game
Depending on the age of the students there are two different scoreboard games. 

For those students who are K-4 aged, students receive smileys or frownys in return for procedures performed well or procedures performed badly.  There should never be a difference of more than 3 smileys to frownys, if this happens the students will become disinterested.  However, the main motivator is the reward.  When students receive a smiley the teacher exclaims "One second party!" and while making the smiley points to the students who exclaim "Oh Yeah!"  As opposed to when students receive a frowny and the teacher says "Mighty groan!" and the students life and drop their shoulders while groaning loudly.

For those students who are 5-12 aged, students use the Teacher vs Student model. Similarly to the smiley and frowny system, students receive a point when they perform a procedure well, and they also receive the "One second party!," and response.  If students do not perform a procedure well, the teacher gives himself/herself a point and the "Mighty Groan!," response takes place.  The same "rule of 3" applies here, the teacher vs student tally should never reach a difference of more than 3 points, because it will lead to student disinterest.

Step 5: Hands and Eyes
This step is used at any point during the lesson when you want students to pay "extra attention" to what you are saying/doing.  To begin this process the teacher says, "Hands and Eyes!," and the students respond by mimicking the words and movements of the teacher.

Step 6: Mirror
Similar to "Hands and Eyes," mirror allows the teacher to gain control of the classroom as well as have students mimic the motions and speech of the teacher.  This is the main part of the lesson where teachers are expected to contribute their own "silliness" and movements into the lesson.  Teachers will incorporate their own gestures, songs or chants in this portion of the lesson and the students are expected to "mirror" the teacher after the teacher says "Teach" and the class responds "OK."

Step 7: Switch!
This step is to be used with the "Teach-OK" step, while students are teaching it is imperative that the same student not teacher every time. Therefore, in order to get every student involved in the lesson, the teacher will direct the students to "Switch!," the students will respond by saying "switch" and the "teacher" of the group will rotate.

Main Goal of Each Day
Each day while using Whole Brain Teaching, the teacher will begin a new scoreboard, as well as integrate their own teaching style and flair into the lessons.  The seven steps above do not have to be followed directly by the teacher, the steps are to be rotated and made to best accommodate the lesson and what is to be achieved that day. This is not a prescribed lesson plan, this is simply an approach to teaching, which integrates movement, gestures, songs, chants and dances into teaching.

Although these steps are the central focus of the "Whole Brain Teaching" model and movement, whole brain teaching does not center solely on these seven steps.  The whole brain teaching movement also addresses the use of project assessments versus formative and summative formal tests as well as teaching that in general breaks away from the standard "lecture" model.  Whole brain teaching, in general seeks to actively engage every student in the lesson by incorporating many different teaching techniques into one lesson.

Source: http://www.wholebrainteaching.com

Why is Whole Brain Teaching a "Best Practice?"
Whole brain teaching is considered a best practice, because this method of teaching seeks to empower students as learners.  In most classrooms nation and worldwide, teaching remains direct instruction by a teacher who is "more knowledgeable" transferring knowledge through lectures and worksheets all leading to a test.  However, whole brain teaching attempts to break away from this norm and allow students to become the "more knowledgeable ones" in control of teaching, while also taking attention away from tests and focusing on daily activities. Although there is no agreed upon definition for a best practice, many organizations agree that a best practice is a research driven method which demonstrates success and can be replicated.  I think that whole brain teaching meets every aspect of this definition and in some ways defies the norm for a best practice.  I believe that because this method can be adapted to any age level, any group of students in any place, this practice may be one of the best, best practices.

In Comparison to Understanding by Design

Whole Brain Teaching, does not compare to Understanding by Design in many ways.  WBT does not focus on assessments, instead the focus is mainly on getting students involved in direct instruction.  However, in similarity to UBD, WBT does center around the question "what should my students get out of this?"  Therefore, I feel as though UBD and WBT are similar types of teaching methods.  I also think that WBT can be used as a "lesson/activity" when planning using UBD.  The great aspect of WBT is that you do not have to solely use this teaching method, you can incorporate it more on days lessons are direct instruction heavy, helping to break up the monotony of teaching.  I think this factor makes WBT something that shouldn't so much be compared to UBD, as it should be incorporated into UBD planning.


Current research suggests that the historical approach to learning, right brain and left brain, is no longer applicable.  According to Jill Bolte Taylor, author of My Stoke of Insight, "Although each of our cerebral hemispheres processes information in uniquely different ways, the two work intimately together when it comes to just about every action we take" (Hermann-Nehdi, 38).  Therefore, as teachers it is our duty to teach to the whole brain as opposed to the right or left hemisphere.  Teaching to the whole brain requires establishing rituals and routines, stimulating emotions and allowing students to become active learners.  As Graham Tyrer puts it, "Using the principles of whole brain learning, everyone is a potential genius" (8).  If we as teachers embrace the differences each student brings to the table, while also incorporating fun active lessons into our teaching, there can be no room for failure.   "Teaching..should encompass different alternative delivery options (materials, media, and methods)...allowing  teachers to become facilitators instead of broadcasters of new information" (Jones, 1979).  Whole brain teaching, in the 21st century classroom, incorporates music, dances, singing, chants, and technology based projects.  "The goal is to liven up lessons with zany and upbeat actions and sayings while placing a major emphasis on students immediately re-teaching information to their peers" (Lindstrom, 2010).  Whole-brain teaching centers on the use of active learning and rituals in the classroom where students become the teachers and teachers become merely "facilitators of learning."

The basis for Whole Brain Teaching, began with with one teacher's problem classroom, led to research and the design of a new way of teaching.  "A theoretical background is provided from a constructivist point of view as a rationale for using Whole Brain Teaching in relation to Vygotsky's Social Learning Theory and Wenger's (2006) framework of Community Practice" (Macias & Macias).  Whole brain teaching breaks learning down into small segments with direct instruction leading to cooperative learning and instant feedback.  Based on Vygotsky's theory of the "more knowledgeable other," using WBT teachers transfer the role of more knowledgeable other to the students.  Therefore, putting the students in control of their own learning.

My Thoughts on Whole Brain Teaching and Current Research
Although, I do not believe at this point there is enough research to support this practice fully, I admit that the idea of combining classroom management and active teaching/learning has me very intrigued.  I feel that beginning this practice in any classroom would be very easy.  The students would hopefully be very willing to try the techniques since the teaching centers somewhat around an overarching game.  I am not so sure I buy in to the fact that student learning is going to skyrocket using this technique alone. I feel as though this is more of something I would use to supplement my daily teaching, as opposed to being my "whole" teaching system.

Critics of Whole Brain Teaching...Where are they?
Surprisingly, after hours of narrowing and refining searches I have found not one single critic of Whole Brain Teaching.  This brings up the question..."Where are the critics?"  Although this teaching practice is new in many ways, teachers have been using the practice in classrooms for 11 years now.  I would expect a teaching practice that began last year to have no critics, however a method that has been used for 11 years, no critics? In some ways I feel as though, like Wikipedia, in many ways, the website of http://www.wholebrainteaching.com has employees who seek out critics and stop them in their tracks.  Otherwise, how is it possible that no one has found something wrong with this practice and written an article in critique?  Because there are no critics to date, I have become very suspicious of this teaching method, although I do think it is a great "beset practice," I feel almost like something is wrong with the practice that I'm missing.  In the profession of education we become used to critics, in fact when there is no one critiquing our practices we become suspicious that something is wrong.  Maybe I'm just too jaded, maybe there is actually nothing wrong with this teaching method therefore backing up the fact that there are no critiques to be made. The only thing I am able to do at this point is wait on breaking news that this teaching method is a scam in some way.


Although started in 1999, WBT still has not reached the masses as much as other best practices around the nation.  Do not get me wrong, WBT has a large following of over 16,000 teachers with the free videos getting up to 1,00,000 hits a year.  Clearly, teachers around the nation and world are curious about what WBT is and how it works in the classroom, this is proven by the numbers alone.  On the WBT website there is a place for testimonials, questions, and challenges, making the website very supportive.

Current Practice in the Field
"I work at a school where over 80% of our students are economically disadvantaged. This year I am teaching a class in which every student (all 22) has at least one diagnosed learning, physical, or psychological disability. The 5 girls and 17 boys in my class can be overwhelmingly characterized as high energy with extremely short attention spans of 30 seconds or less. You can imagine my shock the first few weeks of school. I was ready to throw in the towel! When I found WBT, I was skeptical. I didn't see how any learning could take place in a classroom with such high noise levels and exaggerated movements. How would kids be able to stay on task? At this point I was willing to try anything so I cautiously tried the WBT methods. It didn't even take a full day for me to realize that I had stumbled on a valuable teaching tool. The students in my class are now fully participating, listening, engaging, and teaching each other. Best of all.....they are finally learning, which is all I ever wanted from the very beginning. Already my school principal has observed my class and can't believe that these are the same kids from the beginning of the year. WBT has taken my classroom from a place of chaos to the place of learning that it was meant to be." - Heather Carter, Fourth Grade Teacher; Lenoir City, Tennessee

This is just one example of the many testimonials of WBT working in the classroom, on the WBT website there is an entire page dedicated solely to testimonials from people across the world using this practice.  This goes to show that people are using WBT and it is working in classrooms where student diversity is extreme.

Content Specific Examples of Whole Brain Teaching
If using the WBT teaching model in an 8th grade classroom to teach which states were on each side of the Civil War, the teacher would break the lesson down into small portions.  First beginning with the opener "Class-Yes," then moving on to the classroom rules. After going through all rules, the teacher begins to tell which states joined the Confederate side of the war and why. The teacher uses hand motions to demonstrate approximately where on the USA map each state is located. The teacher then moves to "Teach-OK" and the students mimic her actions. While the students are teaching each other the information the teacher has just shared, the teacher is judging whether or not to move on to the next portion of learning.  If the students have not yet grasped the material the teacher should re-teach the material and go back to "Teach-OK," however, if the students have grasped the material the teacher may move on.  The teacher then teaches which states joined the Union side of the war and why, using similar hand motions to the before segment. The students then move to "Teach-OK," and the same pattern occurs. At this point the teacher is to integrate mirror, hands-eyes, or switch into the "Teach-OK" module, as well as give points to the students when earned or take away when not earned.  At the end of the lesson, the teacher will have the students teach both portions of the lesson to their partner one more time to make sure every student has learned the concept.

A demonstration of a similar lesson is shown in the video below. This video is of a 6th grade math classroom in which the teacher is teaching the students the order of operations.

In my opinion the video is a very good example of how WBT can work in the classroom, and how the classroom management strategies built into the lesson keep the students on track.  I cannot critique this video and pull it apart because I myself had a smile on my face the entire video, I am delighted to see middle school children this engaged and excited about learning.  If WBT can work in my classroom as well as it has in this teacher's, then I am sold on the practice.

Although WBT is very different than UBD, because there is no use of essential questions or no talk of framing the lessons to meet the end assessment; I feel as though WBT does hark on one main point of UBD, the understanding.  According to UBD a student only fully understands what he/she has been taught if they are able to take that knowledge and apply it.  As far as I have seen in this video and others using WBT, the students in the video understand what they are being taught and they transfer the simple repetition and gestures into solving real problems.  Therefore, I feel as though WBT is in a way linked to UBD and to teaching for understanding.

Current Implementation Challenges

There are two main challenges I foresee in the large-scale implementation of this best practice. 1. Opposition to "fun" learning due to the high stakes testing drive in the United States.  Even though WBT can be adjusted to any grade level and subject I feel as though teacher are likely to reject this practice because it takes time away from "real learning" where the teacher is directly instructing students.  Even though a large research based has proven that direct instruction is not the best way to teach students, it seems as though a large number of teachers have not heard this news yet and are reluctant to break away from that practice.  2. Noise levels in the classroom.  Although this is a silly challenge, after having been in several schools with very thin walls I think that many teachers will oppose WBT simply because it allows for students to yell at times and to become excited about learning.  Other than these two challenges, I do not really predict any large scale opposition to WBT.  I feel as though there are enough testimonials and following teachers of WBT to keep the practice on it feet and moving forward.  Hopefully, in 10 more years this practice will be accepted by many more teachers.

I think the way to oppose these challenges is to persist with what you know is right for the students.  If WBT works in your classroom, if students are motivated to learn and grades are improving, than why would you listen to the teacher next door who complains about your class being too loud?  Clearly, you are doing something right, if your students are inspired and excited about learning.  I think the course of action to put out both oppositional arguments is to stay the course, show results, and take those results to someone in a higher position than yourself in order to back up what you are doing.  How can a principal oppose a little noise and fun if the students are learning?

Overall Thoughts

Generally speaking, I think I am sold on using Whole Brain Teaching in my own classroom in the future.  Why wouldn't I want my students to be excited and enthused about learning? Any middle school teacher can tell you, it is like pulling teeth to get young adolescents excited about much, and if this method of teaching can get them excited about learning, than it is the method for me.  Although I know there will be challenges to implementing this practice in my own classroom, I feel as though those challenges are small enough to overcome with the support of other teachers, parents, and students. For myself, I think it will take time for me to adjust to becoming a game show host everyday and showing excitement in my own teaching with gestures, however, that is something I am very willing to work on for the benefit of my students.