The Most Common Speaking Mistakes Teachers Make: Part 2

If your students don’t listen well, then you’ll struggle with every classroom management issue under the stars. Capturing and keeping their attention is that important.

Yet most teachers don’t give the way they speak much thought. They consider what needs to be said, perhaps, but not how they should say it.

The power is in the how.

To create a class of active listeners who seek understanding, nod internally as they comprehend, and act upon what they learn takes a thoughtful approach.

This week, we’ll continue our series by looking at two speaking mistakes that crop up whenever teachers rely on what comes naturally rather than on what works best.

Talking too much.

Most teachers talk too much—much more, in fact, than is necessary. Leaving no stone, slab, or tree stump unturned, they go on and on until their students have more information and encouragement than they’ll ever need.

But it’s too much to take in.

The caveats, warnings, hints, and what if scenarios . . . the added bits of guidance, advice, and unnecessary background information . . . the rambling and cajoling . . . the thinking out loud . . . it blends together into a whirl of words and confusion.

The truth is, your students don’t need to know every what and why. They don’t need a running commentary, another interruption, or more suggestions.

They just need to know what they need to do or what they need to know.

When you provide too much verbal support, you dilute your message, confuse key points and critical information, and cause students to have to sift through the clutter to find out what really matters—which few will be willing to do.

Most will grow bored and daydream or become disruptive.

To reverse these bad habits and behaviors and put power and meaning into your voice, become discriminating with your words—stingy even. Focus only on what action your students need to take to fulfill your objectives and discard the rest.

Make every word count. The more economical you are in speech, the better your students will listen and the deeper they’ll understand.

Repeating yourself.

Another common speaking mistake is the tendency to repeat the same directions more than once in succession—and sometimes three, four, and five times.

Like the previous three mistakes covered in this series, it stems from wanting—often too much—for your words to be heard and understood.

It typically happens after presenting a lesson and before or during independent work. It’s also common before sending students to line up for lunch, turn in assignments, meet in groups, or perform any other routine.

It’s often justified as a reminder or under the illusion that students need to hear the same direction again and again.

But they don’t. In fact, it’s the very thing that causes poor listening.

If your students know you’ll repeat yourself, then there is no urgency or responsibility to listen the first time—or any time. They can afford to be blaze’ toward you and your instruction because there is no expectation to pay close attention.

If ever it feels like you have to do everything for your students short of putting pencil to paper or fingers to keyboard, then you’re probably a serial repeater.

Fixing the problem is simple.

Resolve to give directions only once—and only when your students are quiet and looking at you—and then expect them to be followed. Through practice, and in a short amount of time, you’ll create a class that listens intently to everything you say.

Transform Your Teaching

By cutting the amount of talking you do by a third, and committing to no longer repeating directions, your classroom will be transformed—no doubt about it.

But it will also transform your teaching.

You’ll have more time to gather your thoughts, more time to observe, and more time to breathe. You’ll become precise in your words and eloquent in your phraseology. You’ll become direct and persuasive and unmistakably understandable.

In other words, you’ll be worth listening to.

Next week, we’ll conclude our three-part series with the final two common speaking mistakes. Also, if you haven’t done so already, please join us. It’s free! Click here and begin receiving classroom management articles like this one in your email box every week.

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16 Responses to The Most Common Speaking Mistakes Teachers Make: Part 2

  1. Kevin Kirton March 16, 2013 at 8:33 pm #

    Hello Michael,
    I’ve been following your blog (and your advice) since starting teaching just over two years ago. Like the experiences of many teachers, the first year was difficult for me. And to be honest, even in the second year there were several low times where I thought your advice and your ideas about teaching — no matter how much I was inspired by them — were beyond what I was capable of achieving. Now in my third year, I feel happy that I’ve developed the confidence and resolve to get serious about classroom management. It’s a work in progress and I have a long way to go, but I’m definitely getting there step by step. And I know I’m doing the right thing for my students by focusing on classroom management as the foundation for everything we do as teachers. The focus for me this week? Talking less. Thank you for your regular posts over the last few years.

    • Michael Linsin March 17, 2013 at 7:32 am #

      You’re welcome, Kevin!


    • Molly November 5, 2016 at 1:44 pm #

      Hi Michael,
      I am often blown away by how well your strategies work. I am a second year teacher and needless to say still finding what strategies compliment my teaching style. I teach seventh grade and read this article, as always, with my students in mind. I loved the bit about only saying directions once. Needless to say, the attention span of my middle schoolers is very brief and a reoccurring problem in my classroom is students miss bits and pieces of directions. I have tried introducing the directions as “Now I will only say this once…” And as always there are one or two that are tuned out and miss instructions. These are the students that do not necessarily care about their grade either. If I responded to their plea to repeat the instructions with, “ask some one by you as I mentioned I would only state the directions once, they will sit their the rest of the period rather than ask a friend or neighbor because it is not worth the effort to them. I cannot find a solution to this problem! Any advice?

      • Michael Linsin November 5, 2016 at 2:29 pm #

        Hi Molly,

        This is a big topic, but the best solution is with you and your lessons. You have to make them care, which is the essence of great teaching. I wrote about exactly how to do this in The Happy Teacher Habits.


  2. umbreen sultana March 18, 2013 at 7:13 am #

    In the beginning a new strategy works well. after a while it startrs to lose its effect as kids become used to it. what do we do?

    • Michael Linsin March 18, 2013 at 4:41 pm #

      Hi Umbreen,

      This shouldn’t be true of the strategies I recommend. If you’d like to email me with specifics, I’m happy to help.


  3. Exodo March 19, 2013 at 7:41 am #

    Hi, I do not agree with your evaluation on repeating instructions, because in my point of view the reality in classrooms is that some children may need repetition, no because they don’t listen, because they do not understand or they process information in a different way…responses from most children with difficult learning stiles may need different strategies.

  4. Greg March 22, 2013 at 5:34 pm #

    Great article, Michael! I loved your book and your posts. Question: What do you suggest for a class who generally does not get along we’ll with each other? They don’t really overtly fight with each other and it is not a situation where any rules are broken but there is an overall feeling of annoyance towards their peers and lack of consideration for each other along with some uncooperate students. Empathy seems to be lacking.

    • Michael Linsin March 22, 2013 at 9:36 pm #

      Hi Greg,

      This too is on the list of future articles. It’s a long list, but I hope to get to this one soon.


  5. Greg March 22, 2013 at 10:38 pm #

    Thanks, Michael! I look forward to it. Soon, please!

  6. Aaron July 9, 2014 at 12:42 pm #

    Hi Michael,

    I have been following your posts for the majority of this year. I really enjoy what you write and see a lot of value in your posts. I teach at a small private school in South America that just started two years ago. Many of the children I teach have little to no discipline from their parents or the parenting style is permissive. So when they arrive in my classroom for most of them I am the first person in their life to enforce rules, have consequences, and follow through on them. I teach grades 1-3 in one classroom with students who, speak little or no english, although they speak enough to understand what I speak to them about. The first several months of the year my focus rather than teaching was trying to figure out how to create order in the classroom. I created systems of leverage for things that they wanted to do or have that could be taken away and held them accountable for their behavior as well as providing them with a male role model figure and building rapport with each student through unconditional love and patience. Many of the students do not have fathers or their fathers are not involved in their life. As the year progressed I saw some improvement with them in their ability to follow directions and begin learning how to control their own behavior.
    Do you have any suggestions for me for more ways to be effective as their teacher?
    I am interested to hear any thoughts or ideas you may have.

    Thank you

    • Michael Linsin July 9, 2014 at 1:15 pm #

      Hi Aaron,

      I wouldn’t recommend anything different from what you can find on this website. The same principles, philosophy, and strategies I write about every week should apply to your situation.


  7. Carol McL August 18, 2015 at 11:42 pm #

    Question on the not repeating–what happens to kids who, say, tuned you out and didn’t hear the directions. Some kids are savvy enough to watch the class and figure it out, but what about those who are not. Hope they ask their friends–but then they’ll be talking and suffer a rule break/consequence.. Hope they come and ask you–but then you hold them accountable for not listening and following directions. Others will sit there and do nothing–then you notice and go find out why…you give them directions again, but also they have broken a rule and then receive the consequences??
    Please advise, thank you!

    • Michael Linsin August 19, 2015 at 7:54 am #

      Hi Carol,

      This is one of dozens of articles that address creating independent students. It’s central to our approach here at SCM. Please read through the Attentiveness and Learning & Independence categories of the archive to learn more. The truth is, if a student behaves the way you describe, then the problem lies elsewhere—in a place we can control/fix.


  8. Diana September 14, 2015 at 1:30 pm #

    Hi Michael,

    I’ve read your book for specialist teachers and many of your articles. As an art teacher k-5 im STUMPED as to how to keep students talking at voice level 1 or 2. In first days of art class we practice talking in voice level 1. ( whisper talk) on the rug and they do it fine. But once they start their art work even on the rug most classes I had to remind to keep it at voice level 1 or 2 because they were up to 3. I model it myself . I’ve had kids role play the right and wrong ways. Their voices while working independently just keep getting louder. I even tell them a point is riding on it.