How to Avoid Verbal Mannerisms When Teaching

Have you ever been sitting in class or a lecture or just listening to someone speaking using the same word or phrase over and over again, (e.g. ‘ah’; ‘OK’) so that it becomes distracting? Yes, you have!

All of us have words or phrases that we are prone to use often. One such phrase might be, ‘That’s OK’. It is fine to use these phrases often if they are used in the right context. However, it is not ‘okay’ to use them as ‘space fillers’ as you think of what you want to say next. A pause in your speaking is better, as it can create a sense of anticipation in your students about what comes next and gives you a chance to get your thoughts together for what you want to say. Let your eyes roam around the class to make sure the class is ready for what comes next. This is a better ‘space filler’.

As a teacher, one of your prime responsibilities is to be as perfect an example as possible of the correct use of language.

Using words like ‘okay’ often, can show a lack of vocabulary. On the other hand, it might be simply a nervous mannerism created by a lack of confidence in what you are doing or in your content knowledge or in the teaching approach you are using. You need to remember that, as a class teacher, you will always know more than most, if not all, of your students. Therefore, there is no need to be lacking in confidence or to be nervous.

On a more positive note, the use of these words may just be an automatic, involuntary ‘space filler’ designed to give you time to think.

So what do you do to prevent them becoming a distraction to your students?

Firstly, you need to know that they are occurring. Hopefully, your teacher supervisor during your teaching practice will point this out to you and help you eliminate them before you begin your career. Once you have started your career and you suspect you have verbal mannerisms, ask your teaching mentor to observe a lesson to check the situation out.

Once you know you have these mannerisms, there are ways to avoid them.

1. Learn to pause at the time instead of saying the word or phrase. Then, because your conscious and subconscious mind works many times faster than you can speak, the pause in what you are saying will, in fact, be much shorter than you think. Then, decide on what you need to say and say it.

2. This is a good time to look around the class/audience to see how they are reacting to what you are saying. Use this time to think.

3. Make a list of your verbal mannerisms and create a list of words or phrases that you can use to replace the ‘offending’ ones. Here are two examples:

OK, okay:

“Any questions? Are you happy with that? Do you have any problems with this? Do you agree? Do you understand? Do you need any more information before we continue? Now. Next. Alright, let us continue”.


“Correct. That’s correct. That’s right. That’s the correct answer. That’s the right answer. That’s it. Well done. Who agrees with that answer? Yes; Tom, do you get that answer?”

These are, obviously, simple examples. Even so, it is important to make sure the alternative word or phrase fits well into the context you are using. Otherwise, it, too, will become a distraction.

If you have a sense of pride in how well you use language, you will want to eliminate these verbal mannerisms and enlarge your operating vocabulary.

Teaching Styles: Guide on the Side or Sage on the Stage?

In the early 90’s California teachers were getting released in record numbers. There was a huge budget crisis, districts were raising class sizes and eliminating classrooms, which meant many of us had to go. I was a second year teacher, untenured. I received my goodbye notice in March then set out scrambling to find another position.

I found myself interviewing in the growing community of Moreno Valley. I felt I was ready for anything, but I’ll never forget the interviewer asking my about my style of teaching. He asked, “Would you consider yourself a Sage on the Stage or a Guide on the Side?”

What a great question. Simply asking the question implies so much. If I say that I am a Sage on the Stage, immediately I might be considered a micromanager. A power hungry control freak of a teacher who needs his/her students to act only on command. Or even worse, I might be seen as a showoff whose main goal in teaching is to hear ones’ own voice.

As I sat in the interview room, it seemed the more politically correct answer would be the Guide on the Side. “Guide” doesn’t seem like such a loaded word as “Sage”. A guide leads the way. A guide points out facts. Guides know what pitfalls to avoid.

I had to make a snap answer. It’s been almost two decades, and I still think about my response. I expected that in time, I would make revisions to my answer. Surprisingly, I feel still feel good about the response I gave.

Basically, I believe that there are times when a teacher needs to be the Sage on the Stage and times when the teacher needs to get out of the way and be a guide on the side. Additionally, I’ve seen very effective teachers who can work a class, create amazing discussions, and help students construct learning all from the front of the class. By contrast, I’ve seen other teachers who spend very little time in front of a class, choosing to do most of their teaching in groups. Therefore, the situation and the personality of the teacher play a great role in the debate: Sage on the Stage or Guide on the Side.

Reflecting on the question “Sage” or “Guide” is not a bad idea. My philosophy in teaching, as well as life, has always been balance and moderation. There have been times when I’ve been stuck in the Sage or Guide roll for longer than is necessary. Just asking yourself the question might lead to some meaningful soul searching and deeper understanding about yourself as a person and a teacher.

The Merits and Demerits of the Sage on the Stage

There are definite merits to the Sage on the Stage approach. The teacher on his/her stage, managing the flow of information is definitely faster than the Guide on the Side. I’ve tried to incorporate “guide on the side” strategies for my grammar lessons, but I’ve found that direct instruction works best when introducing initial concepts. I may use “guide” strategies to aid mastery of the information. However, there are dozens of grammar and punctuation skills the students are required to learn in ten months which does not lend itself to the Guide on the Side philosophy.

This benefit is also the biggest argument against the Sage approach. As more and more demands are heaped upon teachers, it is easier to get through the curriculum with this method. However, besides being exhausting for the teacher to be on the stage all day, students require time to digest and process information. Sage techniques such as lecture and group discussion tend to favor the quick thinkers. These students do most of the critical thinking for the class. Consequently, the majority of the class misses out on this important skill.

The Merits and Demerits of the Guide on the Side

I recently began a sixth grade unit on the Hebrew’s exodus from Egypt like this:

Imaging that you were a guest in someone’s house. After a few weeks, you realized that you were doing all the chores in the house, your mom was cooking all of the meals, and your dad began to pay all of the bills. You were once a guest in this house. Now, what have you become?

The students had to read the material from their social studies books and explain how the Hebrews were like your family in the story. The connections they found were excellent. The follow up discussion continued to bear fruit as one group after another pointed out new ways to look at the analogy. I was a guide on the side, interjecting hints along the way.

The follow up to this was that the students had to create the second part of my “guest” analogy. They read about Moses and the Exodus and had to create an analogy about how they were able to move out of the house where they had become slaves.

The lesson was time consuming, but very effective. As effective as it was, I noticed that there were still things that I needed to teach the students directly. Many students, having no background knowledge on the topic, needed me to put this time in history into context. Once again, I was back to being the Sage on the Stage.

Final Thoughts

The moral of this story is that the art of teaching is knowing when to be the “guide” and when to be the “sage”. Once again I return to my original point: Simply asking yourself the question “What Kind of Teacher Am I?” is enough to help make you a better teacher. Being ever mindful of the balance between the two provides the opportunity for the self-reflection we all need.

Teaching Passionately

I attended a graduation this past weekend. As the dean of the school of education confirmed the degrees I thought, what number of those students who selected teaching as their career really have the passion for teaching. Do they have the right stuff to be a teacher?

What does passionate teaching look like? Personally, I think it is a calling. Teaching is something you pour your heart and soul into. You care and you admire. Teaching should be a fun and colourful. Your students should love learning.

Teaching is totally full of personal relationships. Students need these relationships to be able to learn. According to Jerelyn Thomas in Passionate Teaching, “Bonding with students rests on what the teacher gives rather than what he / she asks of the students.”

Mary Powell states in Passionate Teachers Create Passionate Students, “Students equate satisfaction with learning and be more inclined to enjoy school. Enjoying school is far more than just for the student.” Teaching should come from within.

I might often anticipate the next year and wish to give my class the best experience they may have. I wanted my lessons to reflect the real world, full of excitement and have students remembering what and how they learned.

Therefore what’s the “Right Stuff”? I suspect the right stuff is when students will walk on water for their teacher. The teacher can show an image of a vehicle and tell them it’s a plane and they’ll believe it without any question. ( Well, at least not initially ). But, you know what I mean.

I have grown to equate teaching with the idea of a teacher giving of his / her spirit. I Corinthians 12:28 ( NKJV ), “And God appointed these in the church, first apostles, 2nd prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrators, types of tongues.”

I don’t know why teachers were listed third nonetheless, the undeniable fact that teachers are mentioned is significant. Teachers have an important job. We make a difference in the world. We shape the world. If a society is not educated, it won’t be successful.

Passionate teaching includes the student being part of the teacher’s life. I think the student learns the teacher cares when the teacher invites the student into their world. The teacher shares their likes, dislikes, trails, achievements and pastimes.

According to Jerelyn Thomas, “Students benefit considerably from seeing what their teachers are enthusiastic about. Passionate teachers get to the guts of their subject and share with their students. These teachers act as partners in the learning.”

Students need to learn how to be fond of learning and continued self-learning should be our aim as an educator. Teachers who share their love for their subject and help students relate it with real world applications are passionate teachers.

According to James 3:1 ( NKJV ) “My brethren, let not that many of you become teachers understanding that we shall receive tougher judgment.” Being a teacher is important. It is a major responsibility.

There aren’t many teachers who are truly teachers. There are a lot who stand to the front of their class everyday and don’t care for the students.

If you have just graduated from college satisfying the requirements to become a teacher, make sure before you step foot into the classroom you’ve got the passion for teaching.

Teaching English As A Foreign Language – 7 Tips For Using Popular Movies

Movies and Videos in the EFL Classroom

If you’re looking to expand the role of movies and videos in your EFL classroom, what better way to expand the learners’ communicative skills, grammar and vocabulary than by using clips from popular movies? Try using these seven tips for stimulating learner motivation while enjoying a favored pastime of children and adults alike, watching short scenes or clips from popular movies.

1. Use pre-viewing activities

Before the video, warm up your learners to the theme and grammar using pre-viewing activities. A variety of these might include puzzles, photos and images, short games like “concentration” or TPR activities, a story or anecdote, or activating the schema of the learners’ in a number of other ways.

2. Have learners complete a chart while viewing

While they are watching a short video or movie segment you might have the learners fill in key information in a chart. Items like names of characters, occupations, family relationships, clothing and settings can be easily recorded this way. This allows the learners to focus more on the communicative aspects and less on actually writing.

3. Select a grammar point repeatedly demonstrated in the movie clip

There’s no need to leave grammar out of a video-based lesson or stage. If a useable grammar point or structure is repeated or prominent during the movie clip you plan to use, all the better. Just remember to pre-teach that grammar or structural element, even a class or two before the video, so that it will be recognizable in context.

4. Have a list of six to eight lexis

Select a list of from six to eight or ten vocabulary words, idioms and expressions from the movie clip or video you plan to use. Pre-teach these during the pre-viewing stage of the lesson. When the learners then hear them used in context during the video viewing session, the lexis will have added impact.

5. Make use of visual input

A popular movie clip is an audio-visual experience, so use it as such. While learners are watching and listening for general and detailed spoken information, include visual aspects for them to skim and scan for as well. How many? How much? When? Where? Who? How and why are good starters for capturing visually-presented information from the movie clip or video segment.

6. Allow learners to select their preferred movie clip

It can be quite a dilemma. There you have perhaps two or three or more movies from which to choose, but you’re not sure which your learners would prefer. So I have an idea, do you choose, let them do it. Take three movies for example, show the learners only the first five minutes of each, and then let them choose which they’d like to work with. If you have a clip in mind from each of the movies, show each clip and give them a choice. You can work up your activities and lesson stage plans confident in having your learners’ interest and motivation.

7. For post-viewing discussion:

If not addressed during pre-viewing activities, now is the time to talk about favorite actors, actresses, similar plots and stories from other movies, and what might be different or better outcomes for what as seen. Stage re-enactments, altered dialogues and plot twists your learners might come up with. Be imaginative, be creative, be bold or even funny, but get them communicating about their experience.

Prepare a Worksheet

You can prepare a one or two page worksheet to be photocopied and used by the learners for the video session. Alternatively, learners can copy the format into their notebooks. Just be sure to plan your pre-viewing, while-viewing and post-viewing activities well and your English language video clip-based lesson is sure to be an award-winner.

12 Helpful Tips to Pass the CELTA or TEFL Teaching Preparation Course

As a Trinity College of London post-graduate diploma holder in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) when a co-worker seriously queried me on the rigors and requirements of taking a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certification course for teaching English, I recommended an upcoming CELTA (Certification in English Language Teaching) teacher training certification program at the British Council. After several conversations with him I thought,

“Why not give the prospective CELTA trainee some advice right from a proven source?”

Having such teaching certification opens doors internationally for English teaching positions, enabling certificate holders to work in scores if not hundreds of countries worldwide. But the more reputable and highly-regarded 120+ hour programs are intensive, stressful and difficult regardless of the experience and amount of preparation trainees may have.

So, I contacted Nathan Jones, a CELTA graduate I knew and asked, “Look, can you do something for me? I’m tutoring someone to enter the CELTA training course like the one you did. Would you please give him some insight as to course requirements, the schedule, themes, difficulties, etc.? You’ll be able to provide this prospective CELTA trainee with some idea of what he’s in for this summer if he takes the CELTA.”

Sure enough, Nathan, the CELTA grad, offered some insights as to what might be in store for a CELTA trainee during the five-week intensive regimen. With my insight also included, here’s what our advice consisted of:

We offer you these tips for preparing to take the CELTA or other TESOL certification program. Try to remember these valuable key points:

1. Read everything you are given thoroughly.

This includes handouts, course outlines and requirements, etc.

2. Use your peers to assist you in every aspect of your

training. Get to know your directors, teachers,

administrators, and other personnel on the course


3. Complete every course program project on time – or early, if


4. Be open to being challenged and mentally exasperated, take

copious notes, and share them freely with other trainees.

5. Find another trainee or a small study group you can gel and

work well with.

6. Seek out the person(s) who have had friends or family

previously in the course, because they will likely have a

head start in completing course program tasks.

7. Get lots of sleep. You’ll need it. Don’t fall asleep in

class or get “burned out from stress and exhaustion. Take

some “relax” time daily.

8. Practice your teaching techniques regularly, whether

assigned or not.

9. Try to learn from the students you will be teaching.

10. Follow the required texts, books and materials explicitly –

ask questions if you doubt or don’t fully understand

anything. Make sure you understand the processes of what

you will be learning. This is crucial to your success.

11. Do everything in organized steps or stages and be

consistently persistent.

12. A few final Key Points:

o Ask questions – even the “stupid” ones

o pay rapt attention – everything is important

o follow directions explicitly

o listen carefully at all times

o study regularly, plan your time well – resist the urge

to “goof off”

o prepare well daily for each class or input session

o practice what you learn – that’s what your partner / study

group is for

o get help wherever and whenever you can – don’t allow yourself

to fall behind

Be sure to enjoy the experience and have fun. These people will be your friends for life. Remember that a course alone, while preparing you to enter an EFL / ESL (English as a Foreign Language / English as a Second Language) teaching career, does not in itself make you a teacher. Continue to grow, develop and learn throughout your TEFL teaching career.

Good Luck