Three basic techniques in whole brain teaching

The class yes, the teach OK and the scoreboard

In an article which I wrote for I introduced a wonderful system of teaching called "Whole Brain Teaching" (WBT) in which I outlined the fundamental techniques it uses. For those of you who have not read the article, WBT is a pedagogical approach which is based on current research into brain activity and how we learn. Not specific but very applicable to EFL , WBT uses techniques which activate both hemispheres of the brain - thus it is a "Whole Brain" approach.

Traditionally education has focused on right brain activity - the reasoning, rational part of the brain. WBT techniques seek to make connections between this rational part of the brain and the left side of the brain which is concerned with creative activity . It is being proven more and more that an approach which integrates these two different activities of the brain leads to far more effective teaching. We will today look at three of the most basic techniques involved in WBT: "THE CLASS-YES", "THE TEACH-OK", and "THE SCOREBOARD". These are three amazingly simple techniques you can quickly learn and immediately use to greatly improve your effectiveness as a teacher.

What makes them especially useful in ESL classes is it gets the students talking in English , which is often problematic, especially here in Thailand. It is not necessary to implement all of the WBT techniques at once. You can choose to use just a few techniques,. I have however found the more techniques you use the better you and your students' performance will be.

It is important to note that of course when introducing a new technique to class that they understand what is expected of them. In addition you have to practice the procedures with them and get them to the point where they can do what you tell them on command. It doesn't take too long. . Depending on your level of Thai you may at times need somebody to explain to the class in Thai what it is they are required to do. The directions are basically like rules to a game. WBT is very big on rules and has easy ways to get students to comply with them.


The prefrontal cortex is nicknamed the "CEO" by scientists who do research into the human brain . It controls decision making, planning and is also responsible for the focusing of attention. The "CLASS-YES' works like this: The teacher makes a decision to get the class's attention. To do this the teacher is activating his/her prefrontal cortex by using the decision making function of that part of the brain. The teacher then says "CLASS" and the students respond by saying "YES" in unison. The students must say "YES" in the same tone of voice and in the same way that the teacher says "CLASS" - this is crucial.

So if the teacher says "CLASS CLASS' in a high whiny tone the students respond "YES YES" in a high whiny tone. The students, by mimicking the tone of the teachers voice, have now activated their own prefrontal cortexes by using its focusing mechanism. In a very literal sense the teacher's brain is now "plugged into" the students' brain. The "CEO" of teacher's brain, exercising its decision making capacity, now has the attention of and is ready to instruct the "CEO" of the students' brains, which are utilizing its focusing mechanism.

It is fundamentally the same type of relationship that would exist, at that moment, between the CEO of Pepsico and the CEO of KFC. (Pepsi owns KFC and I assume KFC takes direction form the parent company). The technique can be understood as a brain switch which readies the students for instruction. In Whole Brain teaching classrooms it is used whenever the teacher needs the class's attention, which is of course quite often. This technique, like almost all WBT techniques,can be used from kindergarten to university and with adult classes. With children in addition to being a "brain preper" for instruction it an indispensable tool for classroom management.


Some of us may have come to Thailand just a bit unclear on the differences between the Present Perfect and Past Simple tenses, or between First and Third Conditional. I know I did. I also know that I could now tell you about fundamental English grammar in my sleep and I am sure, at least hope, that everyone reading this who has taught English for a few years can as well.

How did you learn this grammar so thoroughly? . You did it by teaching. This is the main idea behind the next crucial technique of WBT- the "TEACH-OK". Research has shown, not surprisingly really, that students learn best when actively engaged in the teaching process. When students , using energetic gesturing, reteach to their partner what the teacher has just taught them they are activating five parts of the brain important to learning : the visual cortex (seeing gestures), motor cortex (making gestures), Broca's area (verbalizing), Wernickes area (hearing) and the limbic system (giving emotional content). I will number the steps of the ""TEACH OK" to hopefully make it easier to understand and use.

STEP ONE - Divide your classes into pairs. You will want to group weaker students with stronger ones. I think two is the ideal number but if you have an odd number of students you will have to have at least one group of three. In this case put the best student in the class with the two who need the most help and ask the best student to take special care of the group. I have found that at first you may need several groups of three students if stronger students are hard to come by. However as time passes and you continue to implement WBT, you will see a more uniform level in your students ability. This is due to the fact you will be getting almost 100 per cent participation and the students lagging behind will begin to catch up with the others.

STEP TWO - Micro teach with gestures. This means giving one small bit of information that the students will reteach to each other. It requires the teacher to be animated and use gestures as he or she teaches. As an example, if we were teaching the Present Perfect, the teacher would begin the process by introducing a very small bit of information such as "We form the present perfect with have or has." After the students have learned this small bit of information you build on this idea. The following TEACH-OK segment would be " We form the present perfect with have or has and verb three."

We continue building so on and so forth until all the rules of present perfect have been taught or at least all the rules that we wish to cover . If this were a very advanced class the final installment of our look at the present perfect would finally build to up to the studetns teaching each other in pairs something like" The present perfect is formed with have or has plus verb three. It is used for both unfinished actions from a specific time in the past which are continuing into the present and with finished actions that have a relevance to present circumstances. Although it is used exclusively with already, just and yet in British English, these words can be be used correctly with both the Present Perfect and the Simple Past in American English." I have used an extreme example here of a final "TEACH OK" mini lesson on the Present Perfect to make my point that we build to whatever level the dictates of the course demand, as opposed to giving a lot of information at once.

STEP THREE - To recap steps one and two-we have divided the class into pairs and presented a small bit of information . Now it is time for the teacher to say TEACH! and his/her hands clap hands and have the students respond in the same tone of voice with the same number of claps with an OK! They then work with their partner taking turns reteaching what was just presented. the students are expected to use gestures as they teach each other.

STEP FOUR - The teacher monitors the groups as the students teach each other.

STEP FIVE - The teacher brings the "TEACH-OK" to a close with a "CLASS-YES"

STEP SIX - The teacher then continues with another bit of information building on the previous bit of information, or if it is time, change activities.

Two other valuable tools which are often used during the presentation of a micro bit of information are the "HANDS AND EYES" and "MIRRORING." These are related but separate techniques that will be elaborated on at a later date that augment the effectiveness of the presentation of information. If you just cant wait for the next blog visit for an immediate explanation.

I have not found a lot of information about EFL and WBT, although it is certainly being used for teaching foreign languages. In my past training I found an emphasis on getting students to use the language creatively. I have certainly done this in the context of WBT. Since I work with phratom students now the steps to creativity are very small but they are creative nonetheless.

For example during the presentation of information I may want the kids to practice using the question word "where." I may drill the class as a whole by asking students a question like "Where is the dog?" trying to get them to think of places a dog might be. Often times kids will come up with something really silly like "The dog is on the sun." I love this kind of response. It shows they have used the language creatively. In fact a kid told me when asked once "The dog is on the sun." I quickly joked back with the question "Is he a hot dog?" and pretty much everybody got the joke.

That really shows that language acquisition was taking place with a group of phratom two students. Think about the implications of that- Phratom two students involved in the creation of and appreaciating a double entendre. Thats the power of Whole Brain Teaching at work. After the good laugh about the" hot dog on the sun" the kids were coming up with wacky places the dog was. During their " TEACH OK"segment of "Where is the dog?" they seemed to be trying to outdo their partner with the craziest place a dog could be. This is proof of being able to use the language creatively which means real learning is taking place.


The scoreboard is a central feature of the Whole Brain Teacher' s classroom. It is an integral part of class management when working with younger students and is critical in keeping older students focused. It basically operates on good ole positive and negative reinforcement. It is simple to understand and use.

STEP ONE - On one side of the whiteboard draw a "Smiley face" next to a "Happy face."

STEP TWO - Draw a line between the two faces creating a column under each face.

STEP THREE - When students are paying attention, and paricipating with gestures and you are happy with the way things are going put a check in the Smiley face column and have them cheer your approval by saying an enthusiastic "OH YEA" in unison (known as 'the "MIGHTY OH YEA").

STEP FOUR - When student performance/behavior is not up to par put a check under the the Frowny face and have the students moan a a collective "OH NO" while wiping away an imaginary tear.

STEP FIVE - At the end of class add up the checks under the respective faces. More checks in the Happy face column means the class has earned some kind of reward (I usually use less homework as a reward) More checks under the frown face means a negative reinforcement (for me more homework).

IMPORTANT NOTE! Do not have a total of more than three checks in in the Frowny face column in excess of the number in the Smiley face otherwise the "SCOREBOARD" loses effectiveness. Students become resentful and lose interest in the "game."

The "SCOREBOARD" works on the limbic system which is the part of the brain that controls emotional response. It is a powerful tool to keep order and keep things focused. In follow up blogs I will discuss "THE FIVE CLASSROOM RULES" which for the most part are used for class management issues with kids. The rules obviously relate closely to the "SCOREBOARD". Remember though the "SCOREBOARD" is also used with older students to keep focus.

If I were teaching up university anywhere in the world I would have no qualms about using the "SCOREBOARD" as a fun way to give the class feedback about how well they were performing . That being said I would feel a little foolish walking into a corporate training class anywhere but sanook loving Thailand and drawing a Smiley face and Happy face on a whiteboard in front of a group of business executives and telling them to give me a "MIGHTY OH NO".

I have taught all kinds of classes here in Thailand as well as a lot of corporate classes . Although I have not had the opportunity to use WBT in a corporate situation, my guess is all Thai students would play along with "THE SCOREBOARD." Having been witness to a teacher leading a group of bank managers in a game of "Simon Says" I gotta figure you are on safe ground with "THE SCOREBOARD" in any class in Siam. (Simon says touch your butt hahahahah....true story).

These are the three most important techniques in WBT. Just these three simple things can greatly enhance your students learning as well as making your job a helluva lot easier and more enjoyable. There is a lot more to WBT but this can get you started.

Finally I want to underscore that these techniques are flexible and can be used in harmony with your own style and class goals/level. That is unless sadly you have an "I don;'t really give a damn" attitude. I think it is more easily adapted to animated lively styles of teaching but I personally think there is room for those of a more phlegmatic nature, however gestures must be used.

You look at professional athletes, say in a sport like golf or tennis, you will see that the pros are all pretty much adhering to the same set of fundamentals to swinging a club or racket. In spite of this commonality each player has his own unique swing. In the same way each teacher will have his own style in which he can adapt a given pedagogical approach to be the most effective teacher he or she can be.

It is my stalwart conviction that Whole Brain Teaching (or in our case here in Thailand "Ajarning" is by far the most effective approach to accomplish this goal. Give WBT a try, you'll love it and so will your students. Again to find out more about WBT visit the powerteachers website 

Happy teaching!


how is wbt different with whole brain literacy?
i need this for my research. thanks! Godbless.

By torres, philippines (4 years ago)

Thanks for the article. I've been very interested in Gardner's research for a long time, because I've been convinced since about the late '80s that "correct" education following the Dewey model ( ) is the way out of the world's moral morass.

However, I've been lazy in pursuing my self-education in education due to my commitment to music and writing.

So, my thanks for the practical advice. Much appreciated.

I do want to point out, however, that right-brain activity is creative activity, and left-brain, logical.

( )

By Merrill Danford, Pathum Thani (6 years ago)

Hey matt, yes absoulutely WBT works great with mattayom. Go to for lots of resources and to view videos lee

By leelepper, bangkok (6 years ago)

A question for you this method effective for older learners our should it be 'tweaked' a bit? I ask this because I teach M5 and M6. Thanks very much for this article, I think it's a great method and am looking forward to trying it out!

By Matt, S. Thailand (6 years ago)

I've used the "THE CLASS-YES" and "THE SCOREBOARD" methods quite often. With the scoreboard, I've found that you have to have rewards and consequences that the students can relate to or it just doesn't work. Thinking about what those should be, can be a little tricky. Another scoreboard method that I like better is to give points away frequently and take them away at will. The more points at the end of class, the better the reward.

I've never used the "TEACH OK" method with a class of kindergarten students. If you only see the class 30 minutes a week (if that), I'm not sure this would be a good idea for them. Moreover, I think the Thai teachers and parents would have big issues with it. But I like the idea for older students, especially adults!

By Lisa Young, Nonthaburi (6 years ago)

Hey Paul and Tammy- spread the good word. And remember tons of resources all free at Share your expereinces with ajarn readers too!

By lee lepper, bangkok (6 years ago)

Thanks Lee, for these wonderful tips and techniques. I teach Mathayom here in Trang, mostly the younger ones - M1 and M2. I know for a fact that the kids will love OH YEAH and OH NO and this will absolutely make my job easier. I'm definitely going to try to implement some of these techniques in my teaching this year. Thank you!

By Paul King, Trang, Thailand (6 years ago)

I was entrigued with this approach when I first read about it but was sure it wouldn't work with my kinder class of 3.5 to 4 year olds. I only see them on M, W, F for 3 hours. I was amazed that by Friday almost all of them would stop what they were doing and say 'Yes' when I said 'Class'. They even will say 'Yessity Yes' when I say 'Classity Class'. I am convinced and will now start the 'Teach' with our phonics program.

By Tammy, Samutprakarn (6 years ago)

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