Building student engagement with Whole Brain Teaching

If you've never heard of Whole Brain Teaching (WBT) then let me introduce you to the best way I've found to hold students' attention while learning.

I stumbled upon WBT in 2014 and immediately tried it out with my students. I was so excited to find an interactive and fun way to keep them engaged in learning while I was teaching. WBT is a certified training course you can undertake and there are levels of attainment you can work towards, of which I have done none. However, there are some simple tricks WBT has that are super easy to use in your classroom today to keep students engaged.

Let me show you a few of my favourite techniques...

One: Get their attention

This is the first technique I used with WBT on my students and you're probably familiar with call outs and call backs when you want to get their attention. I use:

T: class, class, class
S: yes, yes, yes

and you can funk that up a bit sometimes to:

T: classity, class, class
S: yesity, yes, yes

and so on... the point is to train them to stop and repeat. If you aren't already using this system of ' 'attention getting' you should start now - it really works and you can use it anywhere. The key is to keep the students' attention.

Two: Mirror Words

Teach students 'mirror words' by using a hand gesture or movement whenever those words are said. Watch the video below and notice that this is a student who has been trained in this technique already. She repeats the chant learnt in class and uses the mirror words, the students in the class chant it back and use the same movements with their hands. This reinforces their memory of these concepts by using a different part of the brain (i.e. using their whole brain). Notice how, as the camera pans around the room, every single child in that class is doing the actions. Nobody is gazing out the window and behaviour is completely focused on repeating the chant with the actions.

Tip: If you have hearing impaired students in your room you might like to try and learn some sign language and use this. When I taught in classes with hearing impaired students I would take the time to learn the necessary signs and use these instead as it also teaches the other students in the room some basic signs they can use as well!

Three: Teach, Okay

This is my favourite part of WBT, getting the students to teach each other! You know yourself, there is no quicker way to learn something than when you have to teach it to somebody else! Students are the same. The minute they are asked to teach key concepts to another student they suddenly become the 'teacher' and they all love that! It's important to state the objective very clearly once they are paired up (the old fashioned term might be 'think, pair, share' however this is slightly different as there is no sharing at the end). 

T: class, class, class
S: yes, yes, yes

T: find a partner and hold their hand up when you're ready

T: today we have been learning that a noun is a person, place or thing. I want you to tell your partner what a noun is and give them 5 examples, then switch - *claps hands three times* teach
S: *clap hands three times* okay!

This is when WBT becomes a better strategy than 'think, pair, share' because the teacher can then walk around the room and listen. Listen to what students are saying. Are they on task? Are they correct in their examples? It's a perfect way to gain instant feedback for a strategy you have just taught and guess what, they are teaching themselves so they are not just listening to your voice all the time!

Hint: For higher level students I will often listen and then give them an extension activity such as 'Okay, now I want you to use those nouns in a compound sentence'. Lower students will benefit from some one-on-one you'll be free to give them during this time and you can even pair with them.

This video below shows the Teach, Okay technique (btw how cute is the little girl at the front who turns around and sees the teacher with the camera in her hand 'what are you doing?'!)

There are many more advanced techniques but these are the three that I really love and are quick to train students in. Try them next time you teach and come back and tell me how the lesson went. I'd love to know!

To finish here is my favourite WBT video as it's such a great example of WBT in practice. Enjoy.

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