What We Say and How We Say It Matter

What We Say and How We Say It Matter

What We Say And How We Say It Matter - Teacher Talk That Improves Student Learning And Behavior.


We all have the best of intentions when it comes to our students. We want them to have joy and positive energy for learning. We want them to be kind and collaborative and responsible. We want them to have a growth mindset and be willing to take on cool challenges.

We all also have to rely on habits when it comes to how we talk with students. With so much to think about all of the time, there’s no way we could carefully consider everything we say before we say it. To a large degree, we need to run on autopilot when it comes to our teacher talk.

And, we all end up in language habits that run counter to our best intentions.

For example, we want students to have ownership of their work, but we accidentally indicate that we own the work when we say, “Here’s what you’re going to do for me in this next assignment.”

Or, we want students to see learning as joyful, but we undermine that when we say, “Once we finish our work, we’ll do something fun.”

One of my language challenges as a young teacher had to do with the way I praised students. Even though I wanted students to be independent, strong, and assertive, even though I wanted students to self-assess their own work, I trained them to be teacher-pleasers by using teacher-centric praise. “I love the way you added those details to your story!” “I like the way you’re sitting quietly and are ready for our read-aloud.” “Great job with cleaning up after science!”

In my latest book, What We Say and How We Say It Matter: Teacher Talk that Improves Student Learning and Behavior, I dig into many of these common teacher mismatches between our best intentions and our daily language habits. Don’t worry, I don’t just share what not to do, I offer lots of practical suggestions for what to say instead. (See the chart below.)


Instead of… Consider…
“Here’s what you’re going to do for me in this next assignment.” “Here’s what to do in this next assignment.”
“Once we finish our work, we’ll do something fun!” “Let’s see if we can stay focused on our work for the next 20 minutes!”
“I like how you’re all sitting quietly and are ready for our read-aloud.” “You’re all sitting quietly! We’re ready to start our read-aloud.”

Importantly, I also share many strategies for retraining ourselves so that we get into more helpful and positive language habits–so that our autopilot is more in line with our best intentions.

Are you interested in checking out a few short blog posts to whet your appetite? The following posts each explore a small facet of language and will give you a taste of the tone of this book:

If you’re interested in hearing me talk about this book, check out this interview on Bam! Radio.

I have created three study guide options to support thoughtful readings of this book. One is specifically written for groups of teachers exploring this book together. Click here to view all three options.

You may be interested in professional development on this language–it’s a commonly requested topic! I offer a wide variety of options–keynote talks, workshops, small group work, individual coaching, and more. Click here to contact me and we’ll discuss how to best support great adult learning at your school.


  • Mike Anderson
    Mike Anderson is an education consultant, award-winning teacher, and author of many books including What We Say and How We Say It MatterThe Well-Balanced Teacher, The First Six Weeks of School, The Research-Ready Classroom, and Learning to Choose, Choosing to Learn. Learn more about Mike and his work or invite him to work with your school or district through his website: Connect with Mike on Twitter: @balancedteacher.

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    Mike Anderson
    Leading Great Learning
    Durham, NH
    Phone: +1 413.658.7907

    Leading Great Learning

    Mike Anderson is an energetic, experienced, and highly sought-after educational consultant who helps facilitate great learning in schools all over the United States and beyond. He has over twenty years of experience as a teacher, consultant, presenter, and developer and has authored many books and articles about great teaching and learning.