Method: the 10 Wise Ways

Wizard Brain Thinking in a Lizard Brain World!

He's more in tune with his feelings and more able to control his emotions than before he took this class. He's able to bring his emotional elevator down by himself and go take quiet time. The program has done wonderful things for him.

Parent of a 6-year-old boy

I love the BrainWise curriculum because it explains the skill and gives fun activities to teach the skill, but still allows for creativity in delivering the lesson. My 5th and 6th grade student respond really well to the program and activities.

Elementary School Social Worker

I’ve taught ‘thinking skills’ for 20 years, but BrainWise put all the skills into one program. It is a powerful teaching tool.

High school teacher

Students often fail to see more than one solution to a problem. There is an impulse to want to get it right at the beginning instead of examining options. BrainWise teaches how to stop and think before they act.

Middle School Teacher

This course makes you feel better about yourself because you do things without getting in trouble and learn how to say things to get what you want. I'm happier since I started taking this class. I think everyone needs to take this class.

High School Female, 18

10 Wise Ways®


The “10 Wise Ways” approach to teaching social and emotional skills is based on a multi-disciplinary framework that forms a comprehensive model to teach these critical thinking skills. The BrainWise program uses the Socratic method and activity-based learning to help deliver its messages more effectively. The program also integrates concepts from empirical findings in psychology, education, sociology, and medicine into its structure. By interconnecting findings from various disciplines, the program provides a solid foundation to introduce critical-thinking skills and to teach children how to Stop and Think.

As part of its approach, BrainWise uses concrete metaphors to make it easy to understand and remember complex cognitive concepts. For example, participants learn that that the “prefrontal cortex” of the brain is the “thinking” or “Wizard Brain” and the seat of our executive functions.  They also learn that the “limbic system” is the “emotional” or “Lizard Brain” and the basis of our “fight or flight” reactions.

Research show that the Lizard Brain is hard-wired from birth and instinctively reacts to perceived dangers. This reflex triggers us to pull a hand away from a hot stove, spit out something that is spoiled, jump out of the way of a falling object, or react to the smell of smoke. However, this same instinctive reaction can also cause problems because it also underlies behavior from anxiety over inconsequential events to being suicidal; from texting angry messages to exhibiting road rage; and for reacting to perceived offenses through impulsive back-biting or full-scale revenge.

Overcoming these impulsive and sometimes destructive reactions in social situations or in our daily lives is the role of well-developed social and emotional skills.  However, we are not born with any connections to the prefrontal cortex—the Wizard Brain—we must first learn and develop them.

BrainWise does this by teaching these basic critical social and emotional skills—what we call the 10 Wise Ways.  Learning these skills establish links to the executive functions area of the brain. This process requires not only introducing and learning the skills, but also applying and reinforcing them.

Why BrainWise Works

With an in-depth research background of her own, Dr. Barry based her program on the proven theory that cognitive behavior models are essential in helping individuals restructure distorted thinking processes. Dr. Barry’s basic philosophy in BrainWise is a departure from accepted strategies of intervention and “quick fix” programs that focus on rote learning of packaged responses that do not teach children to “think for themselves.” These other strategies, which inappropriately assume that at-risk youth possess the necessary foundation of thinking skills, do not provide the comprehensive package of learning that BrainWise does to meet these students’ needs.

Certain behaviors are expected during different developmental stages of life. The BrainWise program recognizes how students think and works with (not against) the mental and emotional realities common in children, teenagers, and at-risk adults.

Watch a BrainWise Lesson on the Wizard Brain

The Importance of Asking Questions and Modeling

students-fill-in-brain-worksheetA key characteristic of the BrainWise program is that it centers on a teaching method that doesn’t tell students what to do, but instead asks questions that help them think about what should be done and why. Modeling the behavior being taught is another important teaching tool. These techniques can help infuse the BrainWise concepts into all subjects taught in school or in programs involving students.

The BrainWise program provides the tools one needs to make a real difference in a young person’s ability to make responsible decisions.

Here is what BrainWise offers:


  • Lesson Plans The BrainWise curricula contain scripted lesson plans that instructors find are flexible and easy to adapt to all problem situations. The format includes an overview of each Wise Way and provides reinforcement activities, including worksheets and checklists.
  • Specific Strategies The program identifies critical thinking as a series of skills called the 10 Wise Ways. Instructors and counselors, along with their patients and students, will learn the step-by-step process to Stop and Think before taking any action. Participants will learn techniques of the BrainWise program and be guided in how to use them in many situations.
  • Reinforcement Activities Retention of thinking skills is achieved with practice. The included activities give examples of how the 10 Wise Ways can be reinforced with patients and students. The activities combine kinesthetic, sensory-motor, visual, auditory, cognitive, and socio-emotional techniques—methods proven to boost comprehension, retention, and mastery of skills. The activities can be used as they are written, or teachers and students can make up their own examples.
  • Teaching Aids In addition to creative reinforcement activities, the BrainWise program provides a number of Teaching Aids. These include:
    • Checklists for BrainWise mastery.
    • Problem Solving Worksheets that use BrainWise to guide individuals through the process of assessing and analyzing problems by applying the 10 Wise Ways.
    • Bookmarks listing the 10 Wise Ways that reminds participants to analyze behaviors of characters they read about.
    • Games as ongoing reinforcement. Instructors have found templates on the Internet for developing BrainWise questions for Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? or Jeopardy! The instructors customize the questions to fit the ability and experience of their students or clients.
    • Entertainment Activities that include cartoons, comic books, television shows, movies, songs and computer games – all can be assessed and analyzed by applying BrainWise CPR. BrainWise Problem Solving worksheets are in the back of the BrainWise curriculum; instructors also can request a BrainWise CPR worksheet to use for these reinforcement activities.
    • BrainWise Skill Sheets can be customized for students and young clients. By placing a story on a BrainWise skill sheet containing the 10 Wise Ways, students assess and analyze the story by drawing lines from words and sentences to their corresponding thinking skill. Each curriculum contain BrainWise skill sheets with age-appropriate examples.
  • Concrete Language The program’s language –e.g. Wizard Brain over Lizard Brain, Red Flags, Emotions Elevator, Fact vs. Opinion—makes higher level brain functions such as problem-solving and decision-making, very concrete and easy for students to understand. When material is easy to understand and easy to reinforce, it can be retained and applied more effectively.Using age-appropriate examples and making the activities fun ensure that critical thinking will be learned. Practice promotes mastery and will help students obtain a level of awareness where they automatically Stop and Think, using the Wise Ways to analyze a problem before reacting to it.
  • Background Instructors will learn the reasoning behind each concept and activity in the BrainWise program. They will understand the psychological foundation for why students respond so well to this method of teaching critical-thinking skills..
  • Common Vocabulary Early in the program, words and phrases are introduced that reinforce the 10 Wise Ways. As the vocabulary of BrainWise is used, the critical-thinking skills students are learning will be solidified.Educators know that students sometimes use words and phrases that are strange to adults, but seem to make perfect sense to them. Over the years, students have helped identify the words and phrases that best help them understand the concepts in the 10 Wise Ways. Years of experience show that, for helping students understand the important concepts of this program, these words work.\
  • Encouragement BrainWise is valuable for every person of every age. Even adults do not always make the best choices. Although the most important feature of this program is that it helps children grow into responsible adults, another reported benefit is that it may strengthen an instructor’s own critical-thinking and evaluation skills. The professionals at The BrainWise Program—who developed BrainWise and have used the program successfully with thousands of children and young people—understand how challenging it is for educators to help children navigate safe journeys to adulthood.

BrainWise Will Work for You

The BrainWise program evolved over a number of years of use in classrooms from kindergarten through high school. The concepts the program teaches are not new. What is new is the way BrainWise connects and links the thinking skills together, a learning process that helps the brain develop neural pathways to the prefrontal cortex or thinking part of the brain. By introducing the concepts using the Socratic method, instructors and parents empower children and youth to discover and apply solutions.