Classroom language

Manaswini Sridhar

I am just going to begin my career as an English language teacher for the primary section. I would like to train my students in soft skills even at this level. I know it is possible. What are the sentence structures to be avoided? What are the ways in which we can sound more polite?

As teachers, we are constantly directing, guiding and instructing our students. Hence, this is the kind of speech pattern that we find used in the classroom scenario.

“Close the door, Rajeev.”

“Vittal, hand out the notebooks, (please)!”

“Sneha, bring the books from the library, (please).”

“Arun, stop talking!”

“Someone switch on the light! It’s become terribly dark in here!”

Instructions, commands and orders being issued from the very minute we enter class. What are such sentences called in grammar? Yes, the imperative. The imperative is used to give orders or commands. This is the kind of sentence structure that is used predominantly in the classroom. It is a clear indication of who is in control and who is being controlled!

Where have the modals disappeared? They make their appearance only when grammar is taught. Why can’t we use them to make polite requests? Why can’t we use them in our interaction with our students so that at the end of the day we don’t feel like a circus ringmaster, and they do not feel that they have ‘obeyed’ all day long?

Why can’t we say something like…?

“Would you mind closing the door, Rajeev? Thank you.”

“Vittal, could you please hand out the notebooks? Thank you.”

“Arun… we are in the middle of something. Is there something important that you have to share?”

“It’s awfully dark in here. Would someone please switch on the light? Thank you.”

Isn’t this a more friendly, better way of requesting students to do something? Does it sound a little more tedious though? Perhaps we use more words, but why should we be in a tearing hurry? We are here to teach students life skills, not mere subject knowledge.

If the teacher constantly uses this kind of language, students too will imbibe it naturally, spontaneously.

We would probably not hear brusque sentences like:

Give me your pen. (Instead: Could I have your pen?)

Lend me your book. (Instead: Could you lend me your book for a few days?)

Words of thank you, sorry and please will also automatically follow because the class will hear the teacher using these ‘golden’ words generously.

“Thank you for switching on the light, Amit.”

“Yes, Rekha. Please continue.”

“Please speak a little louder. We can’t hear you.”

“Sorry, I couldn’t quite catch that. Could you slow down?”

You have opened the door to soft skills training, without the students even being aware of it! What you learn as a child is something that becomes a part of you for ever and ever. Teaching is not just about conveying bookish knowledge. Teaching is also about making students understand how to get on with people by using the right kind of language.

The author is a teacher educator and language trainer based in Chennai. She can be reached at .

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