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1st October 2004 at 01:00
Clear communication is the key, writes Kevan Bleach

Communication is as essential a part of your repertoire as a seating plan or teaching a three-part lesson. Verbal communication is the main thing - what we say and how we say it. For instance, how you get attention, use your voice and talk in accessible language. Your ability to explain, question, discuss and listen - these all make a difference.

But you need more than words - all the non-verbal messages you send out are just as important.

It's vital to gain your pupils' attention at the start of a lesson or when they've been engaged in an activity, so act with status. Standing up in front of the class shows them that you're in charge. Make sure you can be seen and heard before you open your mouth, then use a matter-of-fact voice backed up with eye contact and body posture.

Try to vary your voice - it will add impact to what you say. Young people often respond to how something is being said. Just take a look at any experienced interviewer or politician on the television to see what I mean.

Raise or lower the volume of your voice, but remember that loud teachers breed loud classes. Projecting your voice can be more effective than roaring. Let words leave your mouth with confidence and precision.

Vary the speed of what you say, and pause before making a point to show your confidence or to allow time for your main message to sink in.

Did you know that teacher talk occupies an average 60 per cent of lessons? That's a lot - so make it count. Make what you say accessible - there's no point using vocabulary if you don't help your pupils to understand it.

They'll only switch off or start playing up otherwise.

My history groups can grasp difficult ideas if I offer everyday comparisons they can relate to from their own experience. For example, explaining the World War One line-up in terms of two schoolyard gangs always works for me.

Get your basic idea across first, and leave the exceptions and oddities till later. Present your ideas visually using mind maps, spider diagrams, graphs, photos or cartoons. Stress, repeat and elaborate on key words and phrases. Ensure pupils keep a glossary in their notebooks. Use key-word displays in your classroom - they will help your pupils and inspectors will love them, too.

Appearances count for a lot. Tidiness in your dress conveys an important message about status and role. And the same goes for the presentation of your teaching. How you present your board work, the quality of your resources, the way you mark your books - these will all have an impact on your pupils.

Enthusiasm and the interest you show in your subject is a powerful part of your teaching. And your passion will be bolstered further by your body language. Facial expressions, gestures and posture all have a part to play.

Like a winter cold, enthusiasm is catching.

It is vital that you convey a sense of confidence, purpose and self-assurance to your pupils - even though you might be quaking inwardly.

I still get the collywobbles before addressing a staff meeting or an assembly. In the end, though, you have to get out there and strut your stuff. So, clear instructions, a firm and measured voice, eye contact as you scan the room, standing centre-stage and circulating the room - these will all help to create an impression that says, "I'm in charge."

Kevan Bleach is assistant head at Sneyd community school, Walsall. He has written and lectured extensively on induction for NQTs

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