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How to Avoid Verbal Mannerisms When Teaching

Have you ever been sitting in class or a lecture or just listening to someone speaking using the same word or phrase over and over again, (e.g. ‘ah’; ‘OK’) so that it becomes distracting? Yes, you have!

All of us have words or phrases that we are prone to use often. One such phrase might be, ‘That’s OK’. It is fine to use these phrases often if they are used in the right context. However, it is not ‘okay’ to use them as ‘space fillers’ as you think of what you want to say next. A pause in your speaking is better, as it can create a sense of anticipation in your students about what comes next and gives you a chance to get your thoughts together for what you want to say. Let your eyes roam around the class to make sure the class is ready for what comes next. This is a better ‘space filler’.

As a teacher, one of your prime responsibilities is to be as perfect an example as possible of the correct use of language.

Using words like ‘okay’ often, can show a lack of vocabulary. On the other hand, it might be simply a nervous mannerism created by a lack of confidence in what you are doing or in your content knowledge or in the teaching approach you are using. You need to remember that, as a class teacher, you will always know more than most, if not all, of your students. Therefore, there is no need to be lacking in confidence or to be nervous.

On a more positive note, the use of these words may just be an automatic, involuntary ‘space filler’ designed to give you time to think.

So what do you do to prevent them becoming a distraction to your students?

Firstly, you need to know that they are occurring. Hopefully, your teacher supervisor during your teaching practice will point this out to you and help you eliminate them before you begin your career. Once you have started your career and you suspect you have verbal mannerisms, ask your teaching mentor to observe a lesson to check the situation out.

Once you know you have these mannerisms, there are ways to avoid them.

  1. Learn to pause at the time instead of saying the word or phrase. Then, because your conscious and subconscious mind works many times faster than you can speak, the pause in what you are saying will, in fact, be much shorter than you think. Then, decide on what you need to say and say it.
  2. This is a good time to look around the class/audience to see how they are reacting to what you are saying. Use this time to think.
  3. Make a list of your verbal mannerisms and create a list of words or phrases that you can use to replace the ‘offending’ ones. Here are two examples:

OK, okay:

“Any questions? Are you happy with that? Do you have any problems with this? Do you agree? Do you understand? Do you need any more information before we continue? Now. Next. Alright, let us continue”.


“Correct. That’s correct. That’s right. That’s the correct answer. That’s the right answer. That’s it. Well done. Who agrees with that answer? Yes; Tom, do you get that answer?”

These are, obviously, simple examples. Even so, it is important to make sure the alternative word or phrase fits well into the context you are using. Otherwise, it, too, will become a distraction.