Mastering the Art of Classroom Communication: How to Avoid Common Verbal Pitfalls

My heart got broken the first time I was professionally edited. I had been teaching for years and no one told me when an instruction didn’t make sense or when a concept I presented was unclear (thank god, right?). So, when that first draft came back with its red lines and capitalized questions, I was completely unprepared for anything other than glowing feedback.

Of course, writing an article is less forgiving than teaching a class. Since everything you say in the classroom is live, you’re bound to make various errors—and no amount of verbal errors should keep you awake at night or make you think that you’re a lousy teacher. At the same time, we owe it to our students to continually refine our language and make changes when our language is muddled, ineffective or unclear.

While some people are more verbal than others, everyone can become more skillful communicators with a plan and practice. Part 1 of this 2-part post focuses on common cueing pitfalls. Trust me, I have fallen into all four of these traps at one point or another. And, honestly, I regress into a couple of them now and then. So, remember to be patient with yourself—speaking clearly, honestly, and comfortably in the yoga room takes practice.

Common Cueing Pitfalls

  • Adding filler words

I do it. You do it. We all add filler words—often unconsciously. I was teaching a 200-hr training in Japan and, despite my inability to speak Japanese, I heard the phrase “et to” so many times during peer teaching sessions that I asked the interpreter what it means. She said, “it doesn’t mean anything,” it’s similar to saying “like” or “uh” in English. Filler words and phrases such as “like,” “good,” “yes” and “uh” are omnipresent in the classroom. Notice what your filler words are and, uh, like, practice not using them!

  • “Ing-Ing” your students to death

Listen to this set of instructions: “Inhaling, stretching your arms overhead; exhaling, forward bending; inhaling lifting half-way up; exhaling stepping back to downward-facing dog.” I could go on and on and there would be nowhere to put a period because there is no specific call to action. Using “ing” is fine, but constant usage creates a run-on sentence. Be mindful of your phrasing and don’t be afraid to come to a conclusion and add a period. Instead, try “Inhaling, stretch your arms overhead. Exhaling, forward bend.”

  • Crowding your students ears with too many instructions

When you give an instruction you also need to give your students enough time and space to complete the instruction. When there is a constant stream of instructions your students don’t have time to do what you’re asking them to do. Remember to take a breath or two after each cue and allow your students to integrate the information.

  • Using a passive voice

This is a big one that requires some teachers to alter their entire style of delivery. Describing passive voice is difficult, so here’s an example: “The action of the iliotibial band (ITB) is to assist in knee extension and provide some external rotation force.” Notice the phrases, “the action of the …” and “…is to assist.” These are passive, unnecessary phrases that don’t help our students. Instead, the sentiment should be expressed like this: “The iliotibial band helps extend and externally rotate the knee.” This phrase is more simple, clear and direct.

Jason Crandell was recently named one of the next generation of teachers shaping yoga’s future by Yoga Journal for his skillful, unique approach to vinyasa yoga. Jason’s steady pace, creative sequencing, and attention to detail encourage students to move slowly, deeply, and mindfully into their bodies. Jason credits his primary teacher, Rodney Yee, teachers in the Iyengar Yoga tradition such as Ramanand Patel, and ongoing studies in Eastern and Western philosophy for inspiring to him bring greater alignment and mindfulness to Vinyasa Yoga.

Jason is a contributing editor for Yoga Journal and has written over 13 articles for the magazine and website – many of which have been translated internationally (including Japan, China, Italy and Brazil). His integrative and accessible teachings support students of every background and lineage, helping them to find greater depth, awareness, and well-being in their practice – and in their lives. Follow Jason on Facebook and Twitter.

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