Teaching Do’s and Don’ts


My friend and colleague Mike Griffin is presenting at the 2014 KOTESOL National Conference this weekend. The title says ‘You are Doing it Wrong. Maybe’, and you can read the abstract and some preliminary thoughts about it on Mike’s inspiring blog post here. (by the way, if you don’t follow Mike yet, time to do so!)

Let me only quote the sentence from the abstract that encouraged me to look back at my initial training course I took fifteen(!) years ago. ‘Participants will ideally walk away with a sense of freedom to do consider using what are known as bad habits in class or at least a stronger conviction to avoid the “bad” behaviors.’

First, I decided to list as many ‘rules’ as I could remember.

 give verbal/board instructions first to a task, handout next

 always repeat a word/phrase three times before letting your students to repeat by themselves

 always monitor students from behind, never from the front

 if you do approach students from the front, bend your knees or even kneel next to them

 sit down in class as much as possible

 always bring a worksheet to your lesson

 always ask another student to peer-correct before giving the right answer yourself

 avoid echoing (repeating answers after students)

 avoid running commentary (saying what you are doing now, e.g. I am taking these handouts to give you)


Then, I went back to Mike’s post and checked what he wrote, plus the comments and saw if I repeated someone else. Surprisingly, I did not (except for the last two, which are teacher talk, and this was mentioned) but noticed that the list got considerable longer since the last time I read it last week!

However, one comment from @AnthonyTeacher was the opposite of mine: stand up in class and avoid sitting down. Interesting!

For all the years of my teaching and training time that followed the course I quoted below, many things changed: new course books, new technology for ELT classrooms, more methodology books written, more conferences held (and attended!), courses taken and run, etc. A lot of ‘rules’ above turned into beliefs, or options, and stopped being the ‘right answers’ for all the time. At the same time, many of them are still being presented as ‘the’ rules for any teaching context (I really hope that I am wrong). I am now thinking that I could perhaps make a new list, a list of beliefs I hold as a teacher and trainer and that I hope to ‘plant’ to the course participants on the courses I run. Hm, just thought that the first one would be ‘there is no magic recipe for all the situations’, or something like that.

I am not able to be in Mike’s audience this weekend, but I am so grateful for raising this topic. Mike, you are doing it right. For sure!

About Zhenya

ELT: teacher educator, trainer coach, reflective practice addict https://wednesdayseminars.wordpress.com/.
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11 Responses to Teaching Do’s and Don’ts

  1. Long time no see! I hope you’ve been well in the past few weeks. Glad to see a new post from you.

    The thing that stood out for me (which I suppose must be an Asia rule) is “Sit down as much as possible.” I literally did a double-take. I wondered if you were joking. I even feel *guilty* when I sit down too much in class, particularly YL classes. It never even occurred to me that someone might think about it differently, which just shows how stuck in my ways I can get. 🙂

    Thanks as always for making me think. I hope someone videos Mike’s presentation. I’m going to miss it too. 😦


    • Zhenya says:

      Thank you for such a prompt comment Anne! What you said about sitting down versus standing up is indeed interesting: I was taught that when you stand and look down on students it might intimidate them and they might not feel ready to speak up. I guess, depending on the context, but I tent to stand a lot in a large classroom or working with a large group of people (20+) Partially, because I talk not so loudly (and just remembered something about ‘voice projection’ too – and need to check my old notebook for that!) Thank you for thinking together!

      Yes, there are two of us who are hoping that someone will video Mike 🙂


      • I remember when I did my teacher training course, during one of the other participant’s TP, he spent almost the entire class sitting down. I was at the back of the room, and I remember thinking ‘I wonder what the course trainer is gonna say about that’ – When it came to feedback, the course trainer, much to my surprise (at the time) said that he thought it was a good thing. I don’t think I’d ever been in a language class (as a student) before when the teacher sat down. Fortunately it was right at the beginning of my teaching career, and knowing that it was ‘okay’ to sit down was great.

        Now, I spend around 80-90% of my class time sitting down – but that’s mainly because I teach very small groups (2-3 Ss per class) and standing up would seem very intimidating.


        • Zhenya says:

          Thank you for sharing this example David! Mine is similar, actually. I guess there is a huge difference between the awareness that ‘it is okay to sit down’ and knowing that ‘standing up is bad’, or vice versa. I agree that working with 2-3 students and standing does not ‘feel’ natural (to me, at least) Again, with a large group of 30-40 kids it is hard to sit and relax (again, to me)
          Perhaps combining sitting and standing is a possible recipe? Well, if that exists 🙂 Thank you for the comment!


          • Ron Bradley says:

            This is an interesting topic. We had a P one time in Mexico who was about 6′ 5″ and the students about 4’6″. His voice was as big as he was. He eventually felt how unsafe this must have been for the students and finally decided to teach from the sitting position. I think our physical stature needs to be considered.

            I do think there is strategy to be played in one or the other. I don’t think i would ever give instructions sitting down, for example, as I want to be in “control” and probably use the board or mime. When I approach a small group or pair to monitor I usually stand at a “safe” distance, not to intrude and make it teacher centered. If I want to facilitate I will kneel, as mentioned and use what I call a counseling voice as not to disturb other students and to keep it safe for those I am working with. I too and proponent of monitoring from behind–not always possible. I think we need to be mindful of the students’ culture too and their expectations. When students are doing pair work I don’t sit because this is the most important time to monitor if the students are on task and for assessing the TL.

            What I am not a proponent of is sitting on the desk. We had a rather attractive female do this in a mini-skirt teaching a group of Saudi men. Need I say more?!


  2. careymicaela says:

    Hi Zhenya!

    I too hope that someone makes a video of Mike’s presentation. I would love to see it.

    Your post took me back to the days of my TEFL certification too. I found myself reading your list and thinking about whether I still follow those ‘rules’ even though I hadn’t consciously thought about them in years. I realized that some I do but some I don’t, depending on what the situation calls for.

    I did a double-take at the ‘sit as much as possible’ item as well but I can see how it would make sense in with certain class dynamics. With YLs I find that, unless we’re all sitting in ‘Circle Time’, I don’t have time to sit down!! Monitoring twelve children who constantly have questions, need help, want to show me what they’ve done, etc… I feel like I’ve run a race at the end of the day.

    Thanks for taking me back to my early days of teaching. Sometimes it’s nice to think about how far we’ve come. 🙂


    • Zhenya says:

      Hi Micaela

      Thank you for reading and leaving your comment! It is so true about the (very) young learners: there is hardly ever any sitting down time at all, both for teacher and students. Or… I sometimes found myself sitting on a chair put upside down (to make a train, or something like that) or saw my student sitting under the desk and feeling comfortable. And I can identify with the feeling of having run a race (if not half-marathon, then a good cardio session in a gym!)

      Also, I loved what you said here: ‘Sometimes it’s nice to think about how far we’ve come.’ – I think it is very true. Looking back, re-thinking, asking the same questions again, or asking a question about something that had seemed obvious is an exercise I love so much!


  3. Zhenya says:

    Hi Ron

    As always, I enjoyed reading your comment full of examples! I completely agree that it does depend on our physical stature, as you said, and that of the local culture where the course is taking place. Maybe it is something to check and/or research, but I have a feeling that a beginner level language (adult) learner feels safer and more ready to speak when the teacher is sitting down and looks relaxed, as opposed to standing and ‘rushing’ the answers from the students? Just a hypothesis, of course.

    I like your point about so-called ‘meaningful standing up’ (when giving instructions, as you said, or when closing down a group speaking activity and trying to draw everyone’s attention) Oh, and I like what you called ‘a counseling voice’ (am sure that I use it sometimes but never thought of this nice term)

    Finally, loved your example and reason why you are not encouraging course participants to sit on a desk. A ‘no comment’ illustration! 🙂


  4. Hana Tichá says:

    What an interesting discussion going on here. And I’ve nearly misses this post! The ‘to sit or not to sit’ question is intriguing. I would say that basically, I follow my intuition in this respect – not some rules I learnt in a methodology course; when I feel I can control/monitor the class from the sitting position, i.e. when students are listening and working, I relax and sit down. However, when I spot that the students at the very back are playing on their cell phones instead of doing their work, I feel it’s my duty to stand up and let them know that I’m aware of the fact that they aren’t paying attention.
    What surprised me was the rule: “Always monitor students from behind, never from the front”. I think I do both but I’ve never avoided the latter deliberately. On the contrary, I think that approaching Ss from behind may feel a little sneaky. Actually, I only stand at the back of the classroom when Ss are writing a text, for example.
    I loved Ron’s remark about a female teacher sitting on the desk, wearing a miniskirt. Haha. I realize that I sometimes do sit on a desk but never in a miniskirt (or a skirt). I believe that when the teacher sits down on or leans against the desk, the atmosphere becomes more relaxed and informal – I do this during whole class discussions. By the way, I find it very cool to take a seat among the students (in a horseshoe arrangement) and virtually become one of them.
    Well, thanks for this interesting insight into classroom management.


    • Zhenya says:

      Hana, thank you for your wonderfully detailed and thoughtful comment! I actually do the way you described: if I see someone being distracted from the task I stand up and come closer to this student (or a teacher/course participant). I often find that even the act of standing up already attracts some attention.
      Great that you mentioned sitting among the students! I also find it really helpful: I ‘disappear’ from the front (my least favorite place in class, in fact) and I can really hear the students. One ‘trick’ I sometimes play is looking at one group of students but listening to the other. This way I don’t make an eye contact and don’t interfere into the discussion.
      I so much agree with what you said about monitoring ‘over the shoulder’ looking or being sneaky. Perhaps this is where our cultures are similar. I sometimes take notes of what the students are saying and prefer that they don’t look at me (arrange ‘fluency circles’ or double horse shoe and again ‘disappear’ so that I could take those notes unnoticed)
      Thank you for contributing to this discussion. I have never thought that there is so much to share about this ‘sit or stand’ point! Learning!


  5. Pingback: To Sit or to Stand (is there a question mark?) | Wednesday Seminars

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