BACKGROUND: Better understanding teaching behaviors of highly rated clinical teachers could improve training for teaching. We examined teaching behaviors demonstrated by higher rated attending physicians. METHODS: Qualitative and quantitative group consensus using the nominal group technique (NGT) among internal medicine residents and students on hospital services (2004-2005); participants voted on the three most important teaching behaviors (weight of 3 = top rated, 1 = lowest rated). Teaching behaviors were organized into domains of successful rounding characteristics. We used teaching evaluations to sort attending physicians into tertiles of overall teaching effectiveness. RESULTS: Participants evaluated 23 faculty in 17 NGT sessions. Participants identified 66 distinct teaching behaviors (total sum of weights [sw] = 502). Nineteen items had sw ≥ 10, and these were categorized into the following domains: Teaching Process (n = 8; sw = 215, 42.8%), Learning Atmosphere (n = 5; sw = 145, 28.9%), Role Modeling (n = 3; sw = 74, 14.7%) and Team Management (n = 3; sw = 65, 12.9%). Attendings in the highest tertile received a larger number of votes for characteristics within the Teaching Process domain (56% compared to 39% in lowest tertile). CONCLUSIONS: The most effective teaching behaviors fell into two broad domains: Teaching Process and Learning Atmosphere. Highest rated attending physicians are most recognized for characteristics in the Teaching Process domain.