• Advice: Don’t Say These 4 Things to Your Students

Cover Advice don't say these 4 things shot

YouTube This posting is discussed on my YouTube video Don’t Say These 4 Things to Your ESL Students

Everything that we say to our students can have a big impact.  For us ESL instructors that can be exhilarating, but it’s also a big responsibility.  Unfortunately, without realizing it, some instructors are sending the wrong message to students with “innocent” comments.  These are four statements that are in this category.

1) Teacher’s statement: The teacher doesn’t want students to feel stress, so just before handing out the quiz, she says, “This quiz will be easy.”
Message that students get: If a student starts the quiz and notices that it isn’t easy, he’s likely to think, “Wow!  I must be stupid.  This quiz is supposed to be easy.  My classmates probably know all this.”
What the message should be: This is what we can say instead to help them understand the purpose of the quiz: “This quiz will help us see how well you’ve developed your skills so far and what we’ll need to practice more.”

2) Teacher’s statement: The teacher wants to reward students, so he says, “You have all worked so hard this week, so I won’t give you any homework.  I want you all to just enjoy your weekend.”
Message that students get: “Homework is painful.  It just interferes with free time.  It’s best if we can avoid it.”
What the message should be: What we really want to do is give students confidence in our homework assignments, so we can say, “I’ve prepared a homework assignment that will lead you to developing your skills more.  It’s going to help you do well on our assignments  next week and in the class that you will be in next term.”

3) Teacher’s statement: The teacher wants student to take their assignmens seriously, so she says, “Tomorrow’s quiz is hard, so you need to study tonight.”
Message that students get: “The teacher thinks the quiz will be hard for us.  Why?  Didn’t she teach us what we need to do well on the quiz?  Didn’t she prepare us for it?”
What the message should be: It really isn’t helpful to tell students to study hard. They hear that all the time. Instead, we can inspire them by saying, “The quiz is about what we’ve been studying/practicing.  The purpose of it is to give you an idea about how well you developed the skill and what you’ll want to work on next.”

4) Teacher’s statement: The teacher notices that some students aren’t paying attention to the teacher’s  explanation of the lesson or not taking an activity seriously, so he says,  “If you are not more serious or don’t start paying attention, I’m going to give you extra homework tonight.”
Message that students get: “Homework can be used as a stick.  Teachers use it to punish students.”
What the message should be:  If we truly believe that our homework assignments serve the purpose of helping students and are not just busy work, we should say,  “I’ve thought very carefully about what will help you the most with your skills and put together this homework assignment.”

For those of you who have studied the Suggestopedia approach to teaching languages, this may all be familiar to you.  Everything we say is suggesting something to our students.

For more about motivating students, see

• How We Can Develop Intrinsic Motivation in Our ESL Students. Specific Examples.  (Part 1)

• How We Can Develop Intrinsic Motivation in Our ESL Students. Specific Examples. (Part 2)

David Kehe

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