Six things teachers always say

Insert what you always say here.

This is a post I have been meaning to do for some time. What words and phrases do we always use as teachers?

1. OK

Perhaps not so unusual as it is supposed to be the most frequent discourse marker in the English language (for a humorous take on the various uses of OK, see here)

2. Right

Again, this is a typical teacher “signalling” device. I use this all the time, I must confess.

3. Very good

A common and useful form of praise from the teacher, or is it? According to research by Jean Wong and Hansun Zhang Waring in the United States, the highly frequent use of ‘very good’ by teachers may not always be indicative of positive feedback and in fact may inhibit learning opportunitites (see ELTJ volume 63/3 July 2009)

4. Today we’re going to…

Many English classes around the world begin very much with these words I think. Not much of a problem unless it ends up being a rather long tedious ramble that takes up the first quarter of the class.

5. Quiet please!

Well, teachers of business executives perhaps not but I’d be willing to bet that this phrase gets a lot of usage in young learner classrooms (or a close equivalent)

6. (open your books to) Page … please

I’ve given whole workshops devoted to finding alternatives to saying this in class. This common phrase can be quite a killjoy, especially if they are the first words out of a teacher’s mouth at the beginning of class.

There are two good ways to find out if you are overusing a certain word or phrase. One is to record yourself over a series of classes and watch. The second is to ask your cheekiest student to do an imitation of you. I am not sure which is more painful!

What word or words do you overuse? Post a comment.

Published in: on January 30, 2010 at 8:56 am  Comments (48)  
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  1. That was a great article about ‘very good’. I’ve been meaning to follow it up myself….

    But you know what? I’ll challenge anyone to stand up there for twenty hours a week and not repeat themselves sometimes! I know my verbal tics, but they get the job done….

    • Totally agree that verbal ticks are normal. I am not really of the school of thought that says we should eliminate them. I even think that Do you understand is ok in many contexts, but Michael Lewis would probably beg to differ…

  2. Thank you for a great post! It’s always good to remind ourselves of how unnecessary our teacher talk can be. I learned this lesson the hard way. When I was teaching at a high school in Japan, I guess I always used the same phrase to give positive feedback both in class and at the students’ sporting events. One day I walked into the classroom to find the blackboard completely covered in the words, “Good Job, Good Job, Good Job, Good Job….” As you can imagine, I started giving out more creative compliments after that!

  3. I always said “Well done” to my students and only realised how much I was doing this when when my esteemed colleague inthe next classroom (from Idaho) started making fun of me. He, of course, preferring something which sounded to me like “Gid jarb” which I had never even heard before I went to Japan. As the sign over the bookie says, “Horse’s 4 Corse’s”.

  4. My pet peeves are :
    1. My dears, …
    2. Well done, ….
    3. I’d like you to flip the worksheet.
    4. Sentence : I occasionally comment on posts by Lindsay Clanfield who helped Christina Latham Koenig and Clive Oxenden to write the Pre-Intermediate New English File Teacher’s Book. ( no flattery intended, sir ,,, 😉 )
    5. Thank you ever so much, … for giving us the correct answer.
    6. O’ right ….

    • Tee hee 😉 None taken.

  5. 1. Click, double click

    2. Add a blog post

    3. Comment on your colleagues’ blog posts

    4. What was the most interesting thing you read today? Which blog post did you most enjoy reading? Why?

    5. If you finish your work early, don’t forget you can go visit one of the links on the right-hand side.

    6. Apple-polisher 🙂 (((said with quite some frequency, it’s, I suppose, the replacement of well-done – done in teasing style to indicate excellent work, and now they all do it when praising each others work)))

    • Apple polisher! Now that’s one I will reflect one for the evening. I love “click, double click”. How about “ok, turn it off if it isn’t working and turn it on again”

      • I know… it comes down to context I spose, came up once in Deutsch and I translated it for the student and then the rest of class loved it and started using it… and then I started loving it and using it too and it spread (apparently it’s no.1 phrase in the company now)… dunno, we’re a strange bunch -gives a giggle every time while yes, saying, bl***y excellent work, folks.

        I just remembered the opposite, too, similar because it’s contextual: “Well, it had been raining” (As an excuse – oh, that’s too long a story, my students and I are simply nuts.)

  6. I remember in my first job teaching Italian kids at summer school, some of them thought it would be fun to count the number of times I said OK during one lesson. Can’t quite remember how many they counted, but it was a hell of a lot!

    Other phrases that I use a lot are ‘not exactly’, ‘not quite’, ‘not really’ and ‘nearly’ all diplomatic ways of trying to tell students they’re wrong!

    ‘Check with your partner’ is probably the other most common phrase I use.

    • Check with your partner is another good one. Forgot that one. The communicative approach has a lot to answer for there 🙂

  7. Well…
    I can see where you are coming from but …
    gramatically correct but the question was answer in the… tense.
    My plan for today is…
    Good morning everyone…

  8. I picked up a bad habit from a great colleague, who shall remain nameless, which is to note down the various repetitions or innanities of our gruff, non-native English speaking boss in our tedious monthly meetings. His classics were things like;

    “Speak to Mrs Rossi in accounts, she’s a very beautiful woman you know” (at about 70+, you’d be forgiven for not agreeing.)

    “I don’t want to interfere in your lessons, the quality of your teaching is not my job, well actually it is… but you know what I mean.” o_0

    And the oft repeated
    “I’m a very strong man” which I think meant something to do with holding strong principals about certain things.

    Turning the tables, I sat in on a group of nervous students’ first “School Council” at the state school I work in the other day, which was held in Italian. Noting that there was heaps of repetitive discourse markers going on, I started to note down the number of “C’è…” which means something roughly like “that is…” Once I’d got to 35, I must admit the game got less amusing and more excruciating.

  9. This one got me thinking-I teach 8 year olds, so in addition to some of the above, I often say-

    • I used to be a lifeguard at a public swimming pool. I think Walk Please was the ONLY thing I ever said!

  10. This is not quite the same, but your post reminded me of it.

    A NEST teacher working in Europe told me that she once told her class that the best way to end a letter/email/ text was with the words ‘Yours till the gin runs out’.

    It got around the school and apparently students from several different classes routinely SAID it to each other when they were leaving at the end of the day.

    The teacher was reprimanded, but I doubt whether anything that any teacher taught that year stuck the way that did.

    Not sure what that tells us about teaching. Or learning for that matter.

    • LOL. Can’t think of a good response to that. Will try later on tonight once the gin has indeed run out.

  11. A colleague of mine here in Barcelona recently told me how after an entire term, a new student of hers finally plucked up the courage to ask why she always started giving instructions for activities by saying ‘festival’. After puzzling for a while, the teacher realised that what the student was hearing as ‘festival’ was actually ‘first of all’…


    • He he he.. which reminds me.. 😀

      … of a student of mine who, after about 3 months of the course, came up to me at the end of a lesson and asked why I always talked about Nesquik at the end of the lesson.

      Of course I ruffled my brow trying to figure out what on earth she meant, till I realised she had mis-heard “See you next week” as “See you Nesquik!”

      • Our kids at school love saying “nesquik!”. That’s one of my favourites.

        One of our teachers once mentioned that a kid asked her what “ashley” meant and why she kept saying it. Teacher had no clue what she was talking about till one day when she said “actually” the student yelled out “ashley”!

      • A teacher I trained who taught kids in the Basque country was asked by a parent (one parents’ evening) whey he constantly shouted “Condon!” (= condom) at the kids. On reflection he realised that this was a mis-hearing of “Calm down!”

      • This remided me of a young student I was tutoring. He attended a strictly monolingual English Language School in Greece. Whenever it was time to prepare for a test he would tell me that his teacher told him to “EUROVISION”… I soon realised that he was told to do “revision”

  12. I’m always overusing ‘you know’, tagged onto every sentence. My students didn’t notice it too much but it drives my girlfriend crazy!

    The other words I use too much are ‘usually’ and ‘generally’, especially when explaining grammar points. Since every rule has an exception I don’t like to make absolute statements. ‘Usually we use the present continuous for…’ / ‘Generally, ‘be going to’ is used to…’

  13. “What?” and i leave it at that…

    • As long as it isn’t “What the f…?”

  14. Definitely phrases I’ve used, especially in my first years of teaching. I’ve tried to rid them out of my vocabulary and can successfully say I haven’t used many of them for a long time. However, I still do the “today we’re going to…” I’ll reconsider it next time. My proudest achievement is not using phrase 6 for the last 3 years!

  15. There were a few teachers I would love to have been asked to imitate.

  16. A timely post as I have been thinking about this the last couple of days. I went to an open house for the kids the other day and one of their teachers must have used the phrase “and what not” at least a thousand times during her 10 min presentation. It was all I could do to keep from asking her to stop. This event started me wondering about what my own verbal ticks (as someone put it in a comment above) are.

  17. My pet peeve phrase from observing teachers: “What I want you to do is…” and it’s inbred cousin “What you’re going to do next is…” Drives me crazy! and just confuses the poor students with inane chatter.

  18. My “favourite” teachers’s room expression is “This is a great activity- it takes ages!”

    In this classroom, my new favourite expressions are “Does anyone know where I put the (interactive) whiteboard pen this time”?” and “If we just wait a moment for the computer/ projector/ website/ buffering…” And some people say technology hasn’t had much impact on teaching…

    • It’s funny because it’s true.

      ‘Sorry?’ and ‘in English?’ with rising intonation are also two of my most used phrases. In fact, a lot of what I say in the classroom seems to have rising intonation. Maybe I just like trying to turn everything into a question.

  19. One of my pet hates is “Do you understand?”, and its cousin, “Does EVERYONE understand?”, which should really lead to the learners carrying out a survey, rather than replying individually. Have to say that I’ve heard myself saying it more than once, though.

  20. A student imitated me recently in an in-class skit. Apparently I use the phrase “Yes, but WHY?” quite a bit. I won’t attempt to describe the melodramatic gesticulation involved.

  21. Have you done your homework!

    P.S.: By the way, excellent post my friend!

  22. Hi,
    Nowadays I hold up the book and my students all say
    “open your lovely lovely books” in chorus, I think I may overuse this expression.
    Sadly my other one isn’t even English it’s
    “Aiyo” which is a local expression (in both local languages) of surprise similar to ‘my god’.
    I really should stop, but the learners always get a laugh out of it.

  23. When I was teaching English in Colombia, I constantly found myself saying ‘OK, cool’, in response to student’s replies; made me cringe, but I couldn’t stop myself. Then of course there was the regular refrain: ‘We agreed to start at 10, you’re arriving at 11.30 and you’re surprised that the class has finished?’, but that’s Colombia for you…

  24. […] 1, 2010 by Melania Reading Lindsay Clandfield’s latest post on SixThings, I remembered that, somewhere among the piles of papers and documents and materials I have gathered […]

  25. Definitely “OK”

    I’ve heard others use “super” lots. And “now I’d like you to….”

    I wonder though, if these discourse markers are used in natural authentic ways then perhaps they are wonderful examples of “real talk” models for students.

    While “Open your books on page 24” wouldn’t have so much general application in students English speaking lives, natural repetition of discourse markers could assist in eventual natural spoken production.

    I sometimes think that in the EFL world there is an unnatural and unhelpful emphasis placed on low TTT at all costs!! – teacher talk in many classrooms is perhaps the only exposure to authentic speech a student might hear!

    • I think you’re quite right about that, and I’m certainly not an anti-TTT champion by any means. As I mentioned above, I’m not even that against the “Do you understand” as I think it is quite a common discourse marker and not always the genuine question.
      Thanks for dropping by!

  26. I would add two extra ones that I frequently use in my teaching process in secondary education in Spain:
    – (Any) questions?
    – Finished? /Ready?

  27. Why?

    Can you tell me more about vegetables in your culture?

    Too much IELTS examining.

    • LOL – the occupational hazards of language teaching and examining!

  28. One I seem to use a lot and have observed other teachers saying is “so…”

    It didn’t go down too well when I was teaching a guy Italian in Spain and he eventually asked me what ‘so’ means. That’s when I became aware of how much I use the word!

  29. First time visit!
    Interesting posts here!

    Once I observed a group of teachers, nearly all of them used these following words throughout all their sessions-a whole afternoon! It drove me crazy!
    “If I say…,you say…”!
    “Give me five!”
    “You are so smart!”

    By the time I had to stand up to give commets, I heard myself constantly said “basically,…OK, right” “Basically…OK, right” and “basically..OK,right”!!

    I guess I drove them crazy in turn eventually!

    Jamie ZHANG

    • THanks Jamie for dropping by… it’s interesting to read all what teachers say, or say too much isn’t it?

  30. My teacher always says “it’s very easy!”
    I love that!!

  31. Besides lots of expressions already mentioned, the ones I use most are the following:
    . oh oh … ( meaning there´s something wrong, I mean NO, it´s not correct )
    . Hello Helloooo!( to quieten them for a while )
    . out loud ( when they answer a question in a low voice and the others complain they haven´t listened anything )
    . Please try again, go go … ( when they answer almost correctly, to build their confidence )
    . Express yourselves! ( so that they can talk freely and open their hearts. This was exactly what could have happened when I was a student and there wasn´t even conversation in the classroom ).
    Many thanks and regards,
    Lily Graca

  32. how about “It “says” not it “puts”. How many times do I have to tell you

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