When teaching elementary music, small changes that are easy to implement can make a big difference. Deciding to harness the power of short phrases in teaching is one such change that can yield big success in getting the results you want.
So, just what is this “power” in short phrases? Let’s explore.
1.Short Phrases take less time to process
When receiving directions, a student has to hear what you say, process the direction, decide on the action necessary to fulfill the direction, and then decide how to take the action. While such a process seems simple in real time, it is actually complicated thought-wise.
Imagine you are trying to get students to stand in a straight line. Which of the following phrases seems more effective to you?
This line is a mess! This is NOT how we stand in a line. You know better than this, so fix it now.
Make sure you are right behind the person in front of you.
This may seem like an exaggeration, but have you ever heard teachers around your school speak to students with long, non-directive statements and wonder why students have difficulty following directions?
Using shorter, directive statements gives students less to process and a better chance at fulfilling your directions.
2. Short Phrases Focus on What You Want
When you use short phrases, the focus is put on the result.
For example, if your students are particularly talkative in class, here are some options. See which you prefer:
In this example, one phrase focuses on the noise, and the other focuses on the desired outcome. The trick is to ask yourself what needs to happen and to focus on that as you give directions.
3. Short Phrases Are More Effective With Younger Students
The younger a student is, the more short and direct your directions to them need to be phrased.
I leaned this especially when I started teaching PreK (3 and 4 year olds) this year.
I would get blank stares when I would say “Repeat after me: ‘So, Mi, So’”. Eventually, I learned to say “Say: ‘So, Mi, So’”.
Replacing the words “Repeat after me” with the word “Say” helped them know exactly what to do, and makes their classroom aids think I am magic.
4. Short Phrases Help Reduce Your Stress
Do you like repeating yourself? No? Me neither. The biggest source of stress in my teaching is vocal strain, and using short phrases helps me reduce this. Because students are more likely to be successful when given shorter more directly phrased directions, you have to repeat yourself less, and you get to preserve your voice. It is as simple as that. Win-win all around!
5. Short Phrases Can Improve Your Classroom Management
Using shorter phrases, improves your classroom management because it sets students up for success. They know what you want, they can feel successful for doing it, and because of improved efficiency in giving directions, you have more time for your students to learn.
Here are some things to remember when using short phrases
Focus on the directive. What do your students need to do?
Eliminate phrases that don’t help your students “This is not how we do X”
Keep your vocal tone firm, yet warm
Find the sweet spot between shortness and detail
While shorter is better in many cases, remember that there are always exceptions. Use this idea as an opportunity to explore if you can make you teaching more efficient and effective by harnessing the power of short phrases.
Let’s keep the conversation going. Leave a comment below to share examples of how you think you can use shorter phrases in you classroom, and any other classroom management techniques you find helpful.