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Whole Brain Teaching Strategies

Janelle Cox

One of the most popular instructional systems that teachers are using today is called whole brain teaching. Whole brain teaching strategies emphasize active learning. This type of instructional approach was derived from studies that found that when you tap into both hemispheres of the brain (left and right), learners are better able to make connections. In whole brain learning, teachers may play music during instruction or use guided meditation to help build a more relaxed atmosphere, while students are encourage to visualize, draw, and act out what they are learning. Essentially, whole brain teaching strategies are tapping into the way the brain works best. It’s using the teaching strategies that you are already use in a new, unique way. 

There are seven essential steps in whole brain teaching that teachers must incorporate into their classroom. Here we will take a closer look at each one of them.

Step 1 – Attention-Getting Teaching Strategies: Class Yes!

Before beginning every class (or lesson), the teacher uses an attention getter. The teacher must say “Class” in any way or tone that they wish, then the students must mimic the teacher’s voice and respond with the word “Yes.” There are a few ways that you can do this. The teacher can say the word once or twice. For example, the teacher would say “Class, class,” and the students would respond “Yes, yes.” Another option is to switch up the word (such as “Classy class,” or “Classity class”) and say it three or four times, and the students would respond saying “Yes” in the same way.  After the teacher has gotten the attention of the students, you move on to step two.

Step 2 -- Classroom Rules

There are five set classroom rules that students must follow. Before the lesson, the teacher must go over these five rules to ensure students understand. Each rule is said with a gesture. The rules are as follows.

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  • Rule 1 – Follow directions quickly (move your hand or finger in a swimming motion forward).
  • Rule 2 – Raise your hand for permission to speak (raise your hand then make a talking motion with your mouth).
  • Rule 3 - Raise your hand for permission to leave your chair (raise your hand and make a waving motion with your fingers).
  • Rule 4 – Make smart choices (tap your temple on your head).
  • Rule 5 – Keep your dear teacher happy (Make the letter “L” with each hand and place it by the corners of your mouth to motion a smile).

Step 3 -- Teach/OK

This is the instructional part of the lesson. The teacher breaks students into groups and teaches small sections of information while using gestures, or some kind of movement. Songs, chants, and poems can also be used during this informative time. When the teacher is done with the first part of the lesson, they chant “Teach” and the students respond with “OK,” then they turn to a partner and mimic the lesson that was taught by the teacher. During this time the teacher monitors the students looking for comprehension. Then, he moves on to the next portion of the lesson, and repeats the same process again.

Step 4 -- Switch

This step is to be used in conjunction with the Teach/OK step. When students are “Teaching” to their classmates, they must take turns using the gestures and mirroring the gestures. Any easy way to do this is to count your students off by 1s and 2s so all you have to do is say “Switch,” and the person knows it’s their turn to do the opposite of what they were just doing.  

Step 5 -- The Motivator: Scoreboard

The scoreboard will depend upon the age of your students. Here are two examples of what this step should look like.

Smile/Frown (K - age 4)

Students receive a point on a smiley face or a frown face depending upon if they performed well or badly. Each time the teacher marks the face (each face only goes up to three points), the teacher points and/or chants “One second party” for when they performed well, and “Aww” for when they performed poorly. Then the students respond by clapping once and responding “Oh yeah” or “Aww,” depending upon how the preformed. At the end of the day, if the smiley points outweigh the frown points, students get extra time to play.

Teacher vs Student (5 – age 12)

Same rules apply for this age group, the only difference is that the teacher is awarded the points, and there is not a frown face. The reward can be anything from extra minutes of play, to a get out of homework pass.

Step 6: Focusing Hands and Eyes

There will come a time when the teacher will need to gain the attention of their students. For this process the teacher would say “Hands and eyes” and make a gesture. The students would then mimic the teacher’s words and movements.

Step 7: Mirror Mirror

In order to get the class deeply involved in a lesson, all the teacher has to do is say the word “Mirror, mirror” along with a gesture. Then the students would yet again mimic the teacher. This step can be used at any time throughout the lesson.

Whole brain teaching is a method that can be used with all of the steps mentioned above, or with just a few of the steps mentioned. Many teachers find that they like to incorporate the attention getter step and the Teach/OK step. While others choose to use the scoreboard step or all of the steps. It is ultimately up to you to choose what best suites your teaching style, as well as how your students learn best.

What do you think of whole brain teaching? Do you use this method in your classroom? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section below, we would love to hear what you have to say.

Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds a Master's of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com and TeachHUB Magazine. She was also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com for five years. You can follow her on Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators, or contact her at Janellecox78@yahoo.com.