Mario Rinvolucri’s Six ways of improving relationship

The guest lists continue, and this time … well, what a guest! I don’t think Mario Rinvolucri needs much of an introduction for the readers of this blog, so I will pass it directly over to him.  Here Mario shares six ways of improving your relationship with your learners.

A central aspect of a teacher’s work is getting an adequate relationship with her student/s. I would suggest that without a reasonably harmonious way of relating to her class a teacher will find it hard to get the students to take the subject matter on board.

The building of  inter-personal bridges is central to the work of all the helping professions, doctors, shamans, nurses, social workers, therapists, priests. A recent study suggests that in the US the doctors who get sued by their patients tend not to be the ones who make medical blunders but the ones who fail to achieve decent rapport with the patient.

Here are six ways of building relationship:

Way 1  Geographical rapport. If you meet a student and discover that you have both been to the same town or region you tend to suddenly feel that bit warmer towards each other. If the place is the student’s own native place or your native place…the effect will normally be stronger.

Way 2  Speaking the same language/s  If you meet a student whom you are going to teach English to and are able to say a few words in their mother tongue this act of respect will have its effect on them. If you find out that you are both speakers of a third language this can also have a bonding effect.

Way 3  Same interests. You get talking to a students at coffee break and realise that you both keep bees. If this is the case  then a whole area of sameness and warmth opens up between you.

Way 4  Humour.  You carefully choose a joke that you  reckon everybody will understand and that will not cause listening comprehension anxiety. You tell your new group the joke and, for a moment, they are all united with you in laughter. The joke-telling has given you a way of wave-lengthing with the whole class.

Way 5 become vaguely aware that this first meeting with this student is not easy…you decide to pay attention to the tempo, or speed, of his speech and you modify your tempo to follow his…this will often, seemingly magically, improve the  initial uneasy situation between you. Please don’t take this on faith- try it out for yourself. 

Way 6  Adapting your language to the student’s main eye movement patterns.

This technique is only worth doing if you have not already got adequate rapport in easier ways.

If you see the student has a lot of upward eye movements speak to him from the picturing part of your mind, therefore using visual language.

If you see the student lowering their voice and speaking a lot with eyes cast down to their right then follow suit, lower you voice and respond to the student from the emotional part of your mind.

If you see the student speaking to you with eyes down to their left then they are probably in a sort of internal monologue in your presence…respond in kind…as if you were talking to yourself.

You will only manage the above elegantly if you give yourself loads of practice.


My feeling is that without rapport I have as much chance of teaching my students  as a baker has of baking bread without flour.

Mario Rinvolucri is an author of numerous books for language teachers including two of the most classic ones ever (Dictation and Grammar Games). He is a teacher trainer at Pilgrims. Mario’s new book Culture in our Classrooms, with Gill Johnson, is coming out later this year from Delta Publishing

Published in: on May 12, 2009 at 6:13 am  Comments (5)  
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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. All very good stuff, Mario. Do you think it would work if I tried them all with the wife, or are they restricted to the pedagogical side of things? I’ve often wondered what language she speaks sometimes…

  2. Actually, one of my favourite books from Mario is ‘The Confidence Book’, which was published in 1990 – maybe still in print? There are a few of the more extreme ‘Rinvolesque’ activities in there, but it’s still very pertinent – and usable – if you want to pursue and develop the field of humanistic language teaching.

    • ELB Publishing is slowly picking up and rereleasing classic ELT books (e.g. the Q Book, Challenge to Think – my favourite – and I think the Confidence book)Check out their site

  3. Ah yes – The Q Book and Challenge to Think! I still have extremely grubby copies of those classics in my personal EFL bookstore, and refuse to lend them out to anybody. Which is a bit rich when you consider I nicked them from language schools in the first place!

    Still, I like to think I’ve provided them with a proper home, wnd will look after them well past their ‘chuck-by’ date. Their fate after my ‘chuck-by’ date is less reassuring, though…

  4. Hi Colleagues,
    I can’t help but be chuffed by the positve comments above in THE CONFIDENCE BOOK. I am delighted this book, which I have often considered a bit of a mess has been found useful by by two thoughtful readers.
    Authors opinions of their own books can be pretty irrelevant, as by definition, their books are for others!

    Mario ( Rinvolucri) ( Piglrims)

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