Teaching & The Brain (With Gestures!)

One of the items I loved best from the Whole Brain Teaching Conference was learning all about the brain and how its different parts impact learning.

As teachers, we all know that all kids learn differently and need lots of interactions with materials outside of up just saying something once. We use repetition, lots of examples and modeling, tapping into multiples intelligences, incorporating movement & gestures, and checking for understanding to make sure our students understand each new concept.

Actually naming and describing the different parts of the brain incorporated in Whole Brain Teaching helps not only me to understand it better, but will be a great way to introduce this to admin, other teachers, parents, and even kids!

Here we go!

Parts of the Brain

1. First, clasp your hands together in front of you with your fingers interlacing:
I'll call this "Brain Position" during this explanation to help.
Explain to the kids that this is your brain and is very similar in size to your actual brain.

2. With hands in this Brain Position, wave your pinkies- this area of your brain is the prefrontal cortex. Have kids point to their forehead and explain the prefrontal cortex is the boss of the brain (gesture: put hands on hips), in charge of planning complex cognitive behavior, personality expression, decision making and moderating social behavior. [source]

3. With hands back in Brain Position, wave your middle fingers- this area is the motor cortex responsible for voluntary movement (gesture: move your arms side to side like you are running).

4. With hands back in Brain Position, wiggle your thumbs- this area is the visual cortex responsible for processing visual information (gesture: point to your eyes).

5. Now, you will be separating your "brain" into left and right hemisphere- have the kids say "ew!" as you move your hands apart, keeping fingers bent toward your palm. You could use this opportunity to describe some of the differences between the left & right hemisphere:
We will be looking at the left hand (left hemisphere) for the next few areas.

6. Point to the outside left pinkie knuckle- this is the Broca's Area responsible for language production.(gesture: make talking gesture with hand).

7. Point to the outside left middle finger knuckle- this is the Wernicke's Area responsible for understanding written & spoken language (gesture: point to temple, pretend to write and make talking gesture).

8. Make the "Brain Position" with your hands, separate them into left & right hemispheres (say "ew!") and point to the palms of each hand- this is the Limbic System. This system houses several smaller parts of the brain and is responsible for emotion, behavior & long-term memory [source]. (gesture: for emotion, make a roller coaster movement with your hand, going up & down; for long-term memory, point to your temple).

How Does This All Tie Together?

Traditional Teaching relies upon the student's Wernicke's Area to understand information that is delivered primarily by the teacher talking.

Whole Brain Teaching and Brain Based Teaching relies upon all of the other parts mentioned above to teach and involve students in learning, including:
  • Prefrontal Cortex- used to make decisions about adding "because", giving examples, being in charge of their learning
  • Motor Cortex- moving & gesturing to learn and practice a concept
  • Visual Cortex- posting purposeful signs in class, watching our partners gesture when we "Teach!" to help us see it as well as practice it
  • Broca's Area- teaching our partner, using our words to think critically (using "because", giving examples), mirroring with words
  • Wernicke's Area- still being used, but now in conjuction with sooooo much more of the brain!
  • Limbic System- all of this ties together and allows us all to have fun while learning! This angages our limbic system which makes it fun and ties it to our ling-term memory- yay!
Practice using the gestures and going through the different parts and what they are responsible for- I hope you find this as interesting as I do!

It gets pretty quick & easy to explain, so I may even try to throw this in during Back to School Night with parents. This would give them an example of a WBT-style lesson as well as a fun explanation for why our class may look and sound differently than years past!


  1. Great post! I am loving this Whole Brain Teaching!

  2. Thanks so much for sharing. The brain research that is out there is extremely fascinating and there is so much more to come.

    TIPS: Teach, Inspire, and Prepare Students

  3. Now the Pinky and the Brain title sequence is in my head!

  4. Thank you SO much for sharing this. I've been trying to wrap my brain around this stuff these past few years . . . Conscious Discipline talks a lot about kids who are in their brain stem not being able to reason . . . fascinating! And I love how concrete your explanations are! Have you read Brain Rules by John Medina? More fascination!!

    The Corner On Character

  5. You did an excellent job explaining what we learned in the WBT conference!

  6. Stephanie,

    What a great post and fascinating information! I'm a huge believer in Whole Brain Teaching, but still have lots to learn. (I love how you have a whole section about it!) Please keep the WBT posts coming!


  7. I'm loving your posts on WBT!!!I've always been interested in how it works but never put it to use in my classroom. I've watched the videos and I'm just amazed at how ALL of the students are engaged in the lesson. I'll be reading more from you:) Newest follower here!

    1...2...3...Teach With Me

  8. Hi Stephanie,as you can see, I'm a regular visitor now. I'm learning so much from your WBT posts! Thanks for all you share :)

    primary practice

  9. What a great post, thanks so much for the WBT freebies. I've implemented some of the parts of WBT in my classroom and I really did find it effective. I look forward to reading some more from you about WBT.
    ✰ Stacy

    Simpson Superstars

  10. I attended the conference too! I really learned so much- thanks for posting this for when I need a refresher :)

  11. I just came here from a link on April Larremore's Chalk Talk blog and have spent the last half hour reading your blog - I love it! I teach first grade, but so much of what you blog about can be used in my classroom. Thank you!

    Coffee for the Teacher

  12. I plan on using some of whole brain this year. Thank you for the freebies. Great post on whole brain teaching.
    The Hive

  13. I am one of your newest followers! I am super interested in Whole Brain Teaching, so I definitely downloaded your freebies. THANK YOU!! :)

    I have awarded you TWO awards. :) You have already gotten them before, but I want to give them to you anyway! Come over to my blog to check them out!

    Sweeties In Second

  14. Loved this post! Thanks for all of the brain reminders!

    EduKate and Inspire

  15. I learned all of this today! I am currently at the WBT conference in Missouri. Day 1 down, one more to go. Love this stuff! Can't wait to go back in to the classroom and use it!
    Fun in 1st Grade

  16. This is so informative! I keep digging more and more into whole brain teaching and I think I want to incorporate it after Christmas. I teach special education students, but mostly in an inclusive setting. I'm hoping I can get another teacher on board with this so I can start! Thanks for all the information!

    Teaching Special Thinkers

  17. Would I be able to use some of this information in a presentation for an EdCamp if I give proper credit, a link to your blog and Twitter, and send you the presentation? I'd like to use your hand-brain information if that's alright.

    I find this information fascinating, and I want to help others in the way you've helped me. Your classroom-teaching-style is one I greatly admire.


  18. Great blog! Thanks for sharing your ideas and thoughts :)