Whole Brain Teaching

In recent years, whole brain teaching (WBT) has sparked many conversations across the country — and even some controversy. The movement began in 1999 and has grown ever since.

Whole Brain Teaching has become widely-known primarily due to the dynamic and engaging YouTube videos that practitioners post. In these videos, teachers demonstrate ways they engage various parts of the cortex, such as children’s motor skills, to aid in learning retention.


According to the official Whole Brain Teaching website, there are four strategies K-12 educators can use for any type of direct instruction:

  • Attention Getting
  • Brain Engagement
  • Direct Instruction
  • Collaborative Learning

By using these four strategies during the course of a lesson, whole brain teachers believe they will engage their students. In turn, they believe this engagement leads to higher learning retention.
WBT encourages teachers to limit the time they present information in a lecture format. For beginners and young children, the direct instruction portion of the class should last approximately a minute. The idea is that the more a teacher talks in a one-sided way, the less engaged children will become.

Engagement as a way to increase learning retention in students is the main focus of the WBT movement. The founders believe in engaging the various parts of the brain not usually stimulated in a traditional classroom setting. An activity such as “Mirror Words” asks children to mimic the teacher as he or she speaks vocabulary words and to associate those words with a specific movement. When students mimic the teacher, they use repetition and movement to create more neuron connections as they learn or practice a concept.


The WBT method is not without controversy. Neuroscience experts have expressed skepticism of what the WBT founders say about using the whole brain. The terminology is catchy but not 100% accurate.
Melina Uncapher, Assistant Professor in Neurology at the University of California, says,

The reason that I, and every other neuroscientist, will scoff at that label is that your whole brain is learning every single second of every single day.

Another concern is the short nature of the lesson presentation and the number of activities children may be asked to perform at the same time. If the brain is engaged in several tasks at once, it cannot focus on one thing. If children are asked to perform a math problem while jumping rope, their focus is divided, and they may be less likely to remember the math concept they were asked to learn.


Because the WBT movement is fairly new, no large-scale studies have been conducted to demonstrate its effectiveness. While there haven’t been measurable scientific investigations or extensive research on WBT, teachers are seeing the positive results in their own classrooms and sharing their success online. Educators are reporting and sharing with others the long-term benefits of engaging students via physical activity and collaborative learning.

Whole Brain Teaching may not be beneficial if employed as the only classroom strategy, but it does provide an alternative to the traditional lecture-style lessons. WBT is a tool teachers can use when they feel that lectures are not working as well as they’d like. Students often have different learning styles, so using WBT may allow teachers to reach students who don’t respond as well to teacher-focused presentations. At Walkabouts, we see the benefit of equipping teachers with a variety of tools and strategies they can use to cater to the individual needs of their students.

Have you tried Whole Brain Teaching techniques in your classroom? If so, have you found the results to be positive?