July 8, 2014

Taming Blurters and Wanderers

Guest post by Chris Biffle
Director, Whole Brain Teachers of America

Note: This post is a part of the WBT's Classroom Transforming Rules series. To find all of the posts in the series, click here. To see Whole Brain Teaching in action, watch the videos on the WBT website.

WBT’s Rules 2 and 3: 
Raise Your Hand to Ask Permission ...

In the middle of your fraction lesson, a chatty student blurts out, “What time is lunch?!” You blurt back, “How many times do I have to tell you to raise your hand to speak! Grow up and act like a third grader!” You match your student’s emotional blurting with your own.

Welcome to Teaching Purgatory. Too often, teachers treat kids like they don’t want to be treated. Chained together for a year, instructors mirror the emotional outbursts of their students with their own. We try to put out a kid’s little flame, with our big fire.

Why do children blurt?  For the same reason teachers do. In scientific terms, there are more connections from the brain’s limbic system to the pre-frontal cortex than vice versa. Translation: emotions control reason more easily than reason controls emotions. Another scientific point. Our brain’s mirror neurons condition us to imitate behavior we observe. You blurt me. I blurt you. And so on and so on. Hear those people yelling at each other over there? It’s Teaching Purgatory’s merry-go-round.

Scolding doesn't change behavior. If chastising a child transformed them into a model student, I’d write best sellers, “Scold Like a Pro!,”  “The Five Secrets of Power Chastisement,” “If They’re Not Crying, They Didn't Get It:  Confessions of a Former Sweetie Pie.”

If scolding doesn't change behavior, what does? Rehearsal. Repetition. Practice.

Teaching Rule #2: Raise Your Hand for Permission to Speak
Here’s Whole Brain Teaching’s two step procedure, used by thousands of educators across the U.S., for transforming Blurters into Hand Raisers.

Step One
Review classroom rules five times a day. For Whole Brain Teaching’s Rule 2, you hold up two fingers and say, “Rule 2!”  Your kids respond, “Raise your hand for permission to speak.” They shoot one hand into the air and then quickly bring it down beside their mouth, making talking motions with their fingers. Make this rehearsal fun. Use a variety of intonations, deliveries. Fun imitates fun. Keep everyone’s mirror neurons happy.

Step Two
Your kids have Rule 2 down pat. Rule rehearsals are crisp, speedy. Then, say, “You’re doing pretty good with Rule 2, but now let’s see how you are at helping your classroom friends follow the rule. I’m going to pretend as if I’m talking. Jack, you interrupt me without raising your hand and say, ‘I have a new puppy.”

Say a few words about any subject and nod at Jack. He interrupts you, “I have a new puppy!”

Congratulate him! Great blurting!

Then say, “Class, let’s do that again. But this time when Jack interrupts me, I’ll say Rule 2 and you exclaim, making the hand motion, ‘Raise your hand for permission to speak!”

You talk. Jack starts to blurt. Immediately interrupt him and call for Rule 2. The kids respond in a flash, “Raise your hand for permission to speak!” You see their limbic systems delight in shutting down a classmate’s limbic system.

We call this approach Wrong Way-Right Way. Practice the Wrong Way. Then, practice the Right Way. Over and over.  You’re building reason’s strength to rein in frisky emotions.

Teaching Rule #3:Raise Your Hand for Permission to Leave Your Seat
Use the same approach for Whole Brain Teaching’s Rule 3, “Raise your hand for permission to leave your seat.”  Rehearse the rule with the hand gesture (students raise their hands, then walk their fingers through the air).  Then, use Wrong Way-Right Way.

Jack, on your cue, leaves his seat without permission. Great job of breaking the rule. Jack leaves his seat again, you call out Rule 3, and the kids exclaim, “Raise your hand for permission to leave your seat!’

If you practice the wrong way and the right way, five times a day, pretty soon you’ll see lots more right way behavior.  No kid ever wants to feel like they are doing something wrong … that’s why they deny they’re engaged in incorrect behavior.

“Maggie, stop doing that!”

“I wasn't doing anything!”

This is the wonder. With the procedures described above, you take a classroom disruption, blurting or wandering, and transform it into a classroom unifier. Whenever a rule is broken, a rule is strengthened.
That’s the way it is, my friends, in Teaching Heaven.

To download the free classroom rule posters described in this article, click here or on the images above.

You’ll find more details about our classroom management strategies in our manual, “Whole Brain Teaching for Challenging Kids” on Amazon.com.

Chris Biffle
Director, Whole Brain Teachers of America
Website: WholeBrainTeaching.com
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Chris Biffle, a college philosophy professor for 40 years, is the author of seven books (McGraw-Hill, HarperCollins) on critical thinking, reading and writing. He has received grants from the U.S. Department of Education and the National Endowment for the Humanities. In the last 15 years, Chris has been lead presenter at over 100 Whole Brain Teaching conferences, attended by 20,000+ educators. Thousands of instructors across the United States and around the world base their teaching methods on his free ebooks available at WholeBrainTeaching.com.


  1. I have a blurter. Taught him in Grade 2 and looping with the class to Grade 3. He has temper tantrums whenever he feels like the class or an individual is bothering, teasing or frustrating him. If I follow this WBT approach of asking the class to recite the rule after he has blurted, I know he will react in this way. Anyone else had a similar situation? Hoping he matures over the summer!

    1. I also had a blurter in one of my practicum classes. One way you could enforce the rule is to practice it first thing in the morning before he has a chance to blurt out or to call on him when another student blurts out to lead the class in a rehearsal of the rule - make him an expert and role model.

      If your student is anything like mine was this might still cause him to get upset. There may be some underlying issues and confidence building that need to be addresses before you see any real results. The little guy I had was so upset with himself that I couldn't teach any rules with him thinking it was a direct attack on himself. You might want to talk with him and have him come up with some ways that he can remind himself that the other students are not teasing or bother him. He might also be feeling extra sensitive because he is always being negatively called out for his actions so always point out his (as well as the other students') good behaviour.

  2. Karen-you might want to do a FBA (functional behavior assessment) with your little kiddo. What's the reason for his temper tantrum-power, attention, sensory need, revenge? Thanks for the wonder post! INSIGHTFUL!!!!!!! Smiles and stop by anytime.

  3. Great post, Coach! These two rules create order in a classroom!
    Karen, please check out the webcast on the Super Improvers Team http://www.livestream.com/wholebrainteaching1/video?clipId=pla_33648d18-fa78-48ed-bd64-331b7039586f This WBT tool is an amazing tool that creates a positive atmosphere for everyone...even challenging behaviors! There is a Twitter Chat #wbtchat at 8 pm Central Time on the Super Improvers Team 7/8/14 Come join us and find out more!
    Thanks Laura for spreading the WBT Power!
    Mrs. Stoltenberg's Second Grade Class

  4. To leave seat...students raise hand and then..

    If then need to go to thebathroom...twist a sign language t in the air
    If they need a drink..sign a "w" for water
    If they need kleenx...pretend to blow nose
    If they need to sharpen pencil(ugh) pretend to sharpen a pencil

    I just nod my head to give permission.

  5. For me, my only concern is that I do not like rules. I prefer calling them procedures. Rules are made to be broken, procedures are made to be practiced. :)

  6. I love these rules! Whole brain teaching has transformed my classroom and changed my life! I am enjoying your blog!

  7. How cool is this? Two of my favorite people working together! I have learned so very much about teaching from both Chris Biffle and Laura Candler... Talk about Teacher Heaven =)
    Light Bulbs and Laughter

  8. I teach Emotional/Behavioral Support, so I've experienced first hand how emotions often overtake reason with kids. I've been teaching, rehearsing, and role playing the not-so-good ways and the better ways of handling situations. I'm so excited that I found WBT, because now I have a more fun way of teaching and rehearsing this! I've been using it in my classroom for a year, and the kids LOVE it! I'm almost finished reading Whole Brain Teaching for Challenging Kids, and I can't wait to start using all that I've learned next year! This post was an excellent way to further expand upon what I've been learning, with awesome real world examples. Thanks!

  9. I'm wondering how this would work in a secondary classroom. I have a lot of blurters! I'm afraid they'll think it's childish.

    Any thoughts? Thanks!

    1. Karen, that's a great question! I just posted it on my Facebook page here so I hope you'll get some responses:


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