How to ensure your pupils are confident communicators

11th March 2016 at 00:00
Five ways for you to adapt your classroom communication style to help pupils

There is little doubt that the door to employment or training is opened by a students’ examination results. But what happens once your students try to walk through that door? Do they have the skills to keep it open?

Students need to be able to communicate with confidence. This confidence has to be nurtured while they are still at school.

The teacher’s role in this is crucial. How a teacher communicates with a student has a direct impact on how well the student is able to communicate. Here’s how to get your part of the deal right.

1 Know thyself

Teachers are both transmitters and receivers. Think about your own communication in the classroom. How do you make sure that you are communicating effectively with your students?

The human body is always transmitting signals that suggest to others our moods, thoughts and impressions of people.

Physically, we naturally lean towards someone we like, or towards someone who is saying something that we find of interest.

If we are bored of a person or the topic that they are discussing, we tend to lean away from them.

We must be aware of our own modes of communication when standing at the front of a room full of students and ensure that the signals we are giving off are conducive to a supportive environment.

We must also ensure that we recognise the signals given out by our students and act to respond accordingly.

Teachers can have an individual connection with every student in class through eye contact. Making eye contact when students are contributing to discussions shows that you respect them and that you are listening to them.

To complement eye contact, turn your body towards the student to show that they have your attention, use encouraging facial expressions and gently nod to encourage them to extend their answers. It is always easier to talk to people when they are smiling in a supportive way.

2 Be relatable

Students will be more confident to cooperate and communicate in a class when the teacher/pupil boundary is not an immovable line. Sharing brief and appropriate personal anecdotes will strengthen the bond between student and teacher. Students will begin to see you as a real person rather than purely as an authority figure.

The sharing of stories is an excellent way to generate discussion and help students to use their language skills – students will ask questions for clarification or extra information and also give evaluative feedback just as in a normal “real-life” interaction.

Talk to your students as much as time allows – both in the classroom and around the school. You then become a “person” to them, rather than just a symbol of authority, and they will feel far more comfortable and confident in speaking to you.

3 Using humour

Humour is a social device that we all share, regardless of age, and, again, it makes the teacher appear more human.

Humour enhances communication by reducing tension, relieving embarrassment, facilitating engagement and alleviating boredom. It reduces the distance between teacher and student and creates a collaborative feeling within the classroom. Humour makes a teacher more approachable and will build a rapport between teacher and student.

It also makes lessons more enjoyable. Students in a more enjoyable class are more likely to contribute and comply, which will result in greater progress. However, humour must be handled carefully – and used only occasionally – to maintain a positive impact on learning.

4 Questioning

Questioning is a critical skill for teachers. It is the most common form of interaction between teacher and student, and it is an element of virtually every type and model of lesson. Questioning is a key method of providing appropriate challenge for all students. In order to develop extended responses from students, teachers need an arsenal of appropriate questioning techniques.

You can follow up on students’ answers with words and phrases like “Explain”, “Why?”, “What makes you think that?” and “Tell me more”. By doing this, you provide more challenge, encourage speaking at greater length and get pupils thinking around the question in depth.

When a student finishes speaking, don’t jump in – pause for a moment, consider what they have said. The student will most likely break that silence and extend their answer because they will feel that you need further clarification in order to understand.

5 Classroom environment

The fear of speaking in front of others stems from being afraid of judgement. As humans, we all want to be liked by others, and don’t want to put ourselves in a situation where we may be ridiculed or make a mistake.

Your classroom environment is key to nurturing and supporting the growth in self-confidence of your students. Introduce a golden rule of mutual respect. When someone is speaking – whoever it might be – everyone else in the class must listen in order to understand what is being said.

Develop as many speaking opportunities within the classroom as possible. Speak to students as soon as they walk through the door. Have a rhetorical question for discussion on the board relating to the class topic so that students have time to consider their response. Get into the habit of calling upon students by name for responses to avoid the same hands going up.

Richard Hull is director of charity Talk the Talk, whose workshops highlight and nurture employability skills and interview techniques, along with key presentation methods

More How To... advice online

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How to coach students to manage their emotions (7 April)

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