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It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it!

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Teacher language – what we say to students and how we express ourselves – is without a doubt one of the most powerful teaching tools. Just through the power of words, we can build students up and change their outlook on the world, as well as help them gain academic skills and knowledge. Although the spoken word is something we do every single day, there are certain strategies that need to be followed when opening your mouth in front of your whole classroom. In a perfect world, what you say and how you say it will always be fully understood, but in today’s day and age it is very important to know what you can and can’t say when it comes to the teaching environment.

It is of the utmost importance to always be direct and geniune when you speak. So many of us slip into using indirect language. Sarcasm is a common thing that happens in the classroom without teachers even realising that they are doing it. For example: “Harry, what part of open your ears and listen, don’t you understand?” More often than not, the whole class bursts out laughing and the teacher might think that they have shown a glimmer of their sharp sense of humour, but as a matter of fact, poor Harry has been embarrassed and sees his rolemodel as a figure who now tries to take a stab at him with hurtful words. A simple, “Harry, please pay attention”, would have sufficed. If that doesn’t work, logical punishment and consequences have to follow.

As much as frustration can build up in a classroom, teachers must always bear in mind that students really tend to be concrete thinkers. It can really be an effective strategy to name specific actions rather than abstract terms. For example, rather than telling your students to “be respectful,” it’s usually more helpful to spell it out, doesn’t matter how tedious it might seem, for example, “When someone is speaking, everyone needs to be quiet and listen. We can all give input and ask questions afterwards.”

Always try and keep what you say brief and to the point. We all remember the days when we sat behind a desk and teachers just ramble on… After the fifth sentence, all attention span is lost and the message that was intended to be conveyed went down the drain. Another thing to remember is to always ensure that you don’t talk about politics, religion or any other controversial topic that might get you into serious trouble with the parents in the long run. If politics or religion is part of your syllabus or there is a specific lesson in this regard, ensure you stick to facts and not wander in a different direction of subjective opinions.

Your students may often forget what you say or not take in the message like the should, but they will never forget how you made them feel!


It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it!


Inge Liebenberg




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