Whole Brain Teaching

Whole Brain Teaching: What Is It? 

Whole Brain Teaching combines direct instruction, sharing, and immediate feedback to become a new style of teaching. Whole Brain Teaching is a technique developed by Chris Biffle along with the help of several other teachers who have worked together to develop and change things as needed. This video is a basic introduction of Whole Brain Teaching being used in a college classroom. Whole Brain Teaching can be applied from kindergarten through college. www.youtube.com/watch

About The Brain


The brain weighs around 3 pounds and contains approximately 100 billion neurons. Neurons are brain cells that transmit information. The brain is divided into two hemispheres, the left and the right. No single area of the brain is dedicated to memories. All of the parts of the brain work together to help us learn and store information.


Parts of the Brain


  • Prefrontal Cortex (Brain's Boss) - Controls reasoning, planning, and decision making. The prefontal cortex is not fully developed until you reach your early 20's.
  • Motor Cortex - The brain's most reliable memory area. (When you learn how to ride a bike as a child, your motor cortex helps you to remember that even as an adult.)
  • Visual Cortex - The brain's most trustworthy memory area. (When you meet a person and then see them again, you are often able to remember their face but not their name. The brain stores that visual here.)
  • Broca's Area - Responsible for speaking.
  • Wernicke's Area - Important for hearing and understanding language.
  • Limbic System - Responsible for emotions.
  • Hippocampus - Processes memories and sends information to the region that it originated from.
  • Dendrites - Recieve and transmit information. When your brain recieves ner information, new dendrites are formed.

Repetition = Dendrite Growth = Learning
The more brain areas involved, the more dendrites are grown, the deeper and more lasting your learning.


Short Term vs. Long Term Memories



Short Term


  • Limited to 3-7 items. (When we repeat a phone number, it is stored to our short term memory. Phone numbers consist of 7 items.)
  • Information stored in short term memory lasts 15-18 seconds, but can go away in as little 2 seconds.


Long Term


  • Long term memory storage has an unlimited capacity. 
  • When you repeat data enough, it is stored to your long term memory and becomes permanent.

The Big Seven (Whole Brain Teaching Strategies)
1. Class- Yes 
2. Teach- Okay
3. The Five Classroom Rules
4. The Scoreboard
5. Hands and Eyes
6. Switch
7. Mirror

Class- Yes
What is it?
Class- Yes is an attention-getter. Attention-getters are important for drawing your class in. They are like a brain switch that prepares students to be ready for instruction.
Here is an example of Class- Yes in use:

How is the brain involved?
Our primary attention-getter activates the prefrontal cortex, often called the Brain's Boss. Little if any learning takes place if the prefrontal cortex is not engaged.

More Information: wholebrainteaching.com/index.php  
Teach- Okay
What is it?  The longer we, as teachers, talk, the more students we lose. Students learn the most when they are involved in teaching. Teach- Okay eliminates the long lectures and allows students to have an active role in teaching. For Teach- Okay, the teacher teaches information in small sections and has the students teach the information to their neighbor. 


How is this beneficial?


  • By teaching each other, students are able to practice language and speaking skills. This can be beneficial for everyone, especial ESL students. 
  • Working in small groups has been proven to help students learn more of what is being taught and retain it.
  • Teaching and learning gestures can be used to help emphasise teaching. They also allow active students to move around and use thheir energy in an effective way. There are 3 types of gestures that can be used when teaching.
    • Casual - Hand motions that are used when naturally speaking.
    • Graphic - Matching gestures to your words. (If your talking about walking somewhere, yoy can walk your fingers in the air.
    • Memory - Linked to core concepts or state standards. Memory gestures should be unique to that topic. (When talking about fractions, you can hold one fist over the other. The top fist represent the numerator and the bottom number represents the denominator.)
  • By using gestures to teach, you can tell which students are on task and which students aren't. If students are having other converstations, your brain has assoociated the movements with what was supposed to be taught, which will make it difficult to use the correct motions. 
  • By allowing students to teach each other, you can monitor what they are teaching and check for comprehension and understanding of the information. If students are not understanding information correctly, you can step in and help them without embarassing them. 


How is the brain involved?
During Teach- Okay and incorporating meaningful gestures, we engage five areas of the brain; the visual cortex, the motor cortex, the Broca's area, Wernicke's area and the limbic system. Students take turns teaching and listening to each other, which involves the Broca's area and the Wernicke's area. Using gestures activates the motor cortex and the visual cortex is activated by seeing these gestures. All of these activities together help to make learning more fun and meaningful. This activates the limbic system.


More information: wholebrainteaching.com/index.php

The Five Classroom Rules
What is it?
There are five key rules for whole brain teaching:


How do I enforce these rules?


  • Post rules in a prominent location, near the front of the classroom where all the students can see them.
  • Reherse rules in the morning and after lunch. Use gestures to emphasis these rules. Repetition is important for learning and storing information to long term memory. You can see the gestures and rules taught together here: www.youtube.com/watch
  • If your implementing Whole Brain Teaching, or any strategy in the middle of the year, NEVER say "I've learned a new strategy." For Whole Brain Teaching, you can say "Usually, about this time of year, I go to a more advanced technique. It is used in college, but I think your ready for it.


Why these rules?


  • Follow directions quickly. Teachers tend to spend a lot of time giving directions and waiting for students to do what they are told. By using and enforcing this rule, teachers can cut back on the valuable learning time that is waisted in the classroom.
  • Raise your hand and ask for permission to speak. Allowing a class of 25 students to speak out or come to your desk to ask a question can become chaotic. Be persistant when enforcing this rule. NEVER, unless it is an emergency, answer students who aren't raising their hands.
  • Raise your hand for permission to leave your seat. You don't want students wandering aroung the room. By using this rule, if a student is out of their seat, you know what they are doing. When doing an activity where students are allowed to move around the room, use a symbol (like a post-it over the rule) so that students know it it ok to move around the room at this time.
  • Make smart choices. This rule is important not only at school, but everywhere in everyday life. It is important to teach children to make smart choices so that as the get older, they can continue to make smart choices. 
  • Keep your dear teacher happy. If students are engaged in learning, the teacher is happy. When students are engaged in respectful behavior towards their peers and other adults teachers are happy. The teacher is in charge of deciding what constitutes respectful behavior. This rule is a catchall for anything the other rules have missed which means their are no loopholde in the classroom rules. 

How is the brain involved?
Repetition is important for learning and storing information to long term memory. By going over the rules several times a day, it helps students to be able to store them to their long term memory. When rehersing the rules, the repetition activates the motor cortex of the brain. When adding gestures to the rules, you are making the rules entertaining and fun. This engages the limbic system.

More information: wholebrainteaching.com/index.php

The Scoreboard

What is it?
The scoreboard is a behavior management tracker used to track positive and negative behaviors in the classroom and address them. This system can be done in many ways and can progress to different levels as the school year progresses. For more information on how to implement this in your classroom, visit the following links. 
K- 4th Grade Scoreboard Game:
5th- 12th Grade Scoreboard Game: 


Tips and pointers:


  • +/- 3 Rule: You want to make sure to recognize both the positives and the negative behaviors however, it is important to balance them out. Never give more than 3 positives or 3 negatives at a time.
  • Rewards and punishments should vary. If you stay consistant in the rewards and punishments, the students will get used to them and no longer be phased by them.
  • Don't give warnings. When you give warnings, students expect that and may not take you seriously.
  • Students will work extremely hard to avoid a small amount of work. Taking a few questions off of a task in class in a big deal for them. 

How is the brain involved?
When an instructor marks a smiley or frowny on the scoreboard, students feel a small, positive or negative, emotional jolt. By enlivening the marking routine with a “mighty oh yeah” or a “mighty groan” the reward circuitry in the limbic system is activated.

Hands and Eyes 
What is it?
Hands and eyes is used as another attention getter to bring students together. When the teacher says hand and eyes, students hands go in their lap and their eyes face forward. This shows that students are ready to learn and listening to what the teacher has to say. 


How is the brain involved?
When we are making an important point, we want students to focus intensely on what we are saying. In the hands of a practiced Whole Brain Teaching instructor, Hands and Eyes creates instant silence, eliminating all learning distractions; the prefrontal cortex takes control of brain activity focusing the visual cortex and the auditory cortex on the lesson at hand.


More information: wholebrainteaching.com/index.php

What is it?
"The "Switch" command makes the yackers listen and the listeners yack." Some students are talkers and some are listeners. By pairing listeners and talkers together, you can teach the talkers to be listeners and the listeners to be talkers. This activates more brain areas and helps students to learn more. Switch is used during Teach- Okay.


How is the brain involved?
Some students talk easily, often too easily! Other students fall into the role of passive listeners. In terms of brain structure, classes are often divided between those who are Brocaians (speakers) and Wernikites (listeners). By using Switch, an instructor can easily teach listening skills to the speakers and speaking skills to the listeners.


More Information: wholebrainteaching.com/index.php

What is it?
When the teacher says Mirror, students respond Mirror, and then pick up their hands and mimick your gestures. There are three types of gestures used while teaching. (See Teach- Okay)


How is the brain involved?
Scientists believe that we learn by mirroring the gestures and activities of others. They have identified mirror neurons scattered throughout the brain that are activated by mimicking the behavior we observe. Our own experience in Whole Brain Teaching classroom indicates that when a class mirrors our gestures and/or repeats our words, a powerful learning bond is created between students and teachers. By using Mirror, not only are the mirror neurons activated, the visual cortex and motor cortex are activated as well.


More information: wholebrainteaching.com/index.php