Communication without words

Sue Cowley offers practical tips on managing your class and delivering your lessons

It can sometimes feel as though you spend most of your days talking, and often as though a lot of that time is spent nagging or shouting. Train yourself to find and use more non-verbal methods of communicating with and teaching your children. This will encourage you to make your teaching more interesting and engaging. It will also save your voice for when you really need it.

* Take time-outs from teacher talk: Check regularly to ensure that you are not talking at your class for too long. As teachers we can sometimes be guilty of loving the sound of our own voices and spouting off on a subject for unnecessary lengths of time. It's one of my own teaching sins. Your pupils will find it hard to listen and concentrate on what you are saying if you go on for too long. Find other ways of getting the message across.

* Use pupil driven activities: Your children will tend to learn far better through doing and finding things out for themselves rather than simply hearing you tell them how something works. Whenever appropriate, put the learning in your pupils' hands. For instance, by using small group discussion, brainstorming or research tasks. Not only will this aid independent learning skills, it will also take some of the pressure off you and your voice.

* Be aware of the signals you send: Much non-verbal communication is subconscious - we are oblivious to the signals that we are sending.

Similarly, our children read these signals and respond to them, often without being aware that this is what they are doing. New teachers can easily communicate a lack of confidence, or an uncertainty about how school systems work. Learn to be aware of everything you are "saying" to your class with your voice, your body and your face.

* Make more use of your hands: Your hands are an incredibly expressive part of your body, particularly when it comes to working with younger children.

See how much you can say without opening your mouth. Get your class to stand up by using a palms-up signal; ask the pupils for silence by placing a finger on your lips; suggest that the class should listen by tugging an earlobe.

* Teach your class some sign language: I've taught the sign language alphabet as part of a scheme on communication: the children really enjoy learning it and it helps them to empathise with people who are hearing impaired. At primary level, you might tie this in with some work on learning letter sounds or spellings. Look at for resources and advice.

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