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Just listen to yourself

When it comes to talking in class, less is more for Sue Cowley

In teaching, it's not so much "you are what you eat", more "you are how you speak". From the moment you open your mouth, pupils make judgments. And if your style is more Mr Bean than Sean Bean, it's not a great first impression.

Watch out for words or phrases you overuse subconsciously, such as okay, yeah, whatever. Get some feedback from pupils or, if you're brave, video yourself.

Use vocal tone to illuminate your mood. Even if they're not listening to what you say, children still respond to the sound of your voice. Don't overdo it, though, 15-year-olds will not be impressed by a teacher who sounds like a CBBC presenter.

Play around with volume. Keep it quiet to force pupils to listen. When you raise your voice, do so from a position of emotional control rather than when you've lost the plot. Combine a loud voice with a sharp tone and ominous pauses between words.

But the best thing you can do with your voice is use it very little. Ask the pupils to do the talking whenever possible they'll appreciate the offe *

Sue Cowley is an educational author, trainer and presenter. Her books include Guerilla Guide to Teaching (Continuum). For more information, visit

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