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Using NLP to enhance the English Classroom Experience

nlpIts been more than 40 years since NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) was first introduced to us by Richard Bandler and John Grinder while working at the University of California.  Ever since NLP made their debut a lot of things have changed in the teaching and learning world.  While many teachers have used some NLP in the classroom without knowing about it specifically, the more we know about it, the more we can enhance the classroom experience for all our students.

I first came across NLP almost by accident while working on my doctoral degree at Universidad del Istmo.  I was doing online research for my doctoral thesis on Effectiveness of Online Learning and their impact on Long Term Performance and was fascinated by what NLP had to offer on the principles of unconscious learning and its effects on long term memory and behavioral modeling.  I have to admit I was hooked.

The basic idea behind NLP, is that our outcomes – our “successes” and “failures” (there is no failure in NLP, only feedback) – are determined by the thought and behavior patterns which we use unconsciously all of the time. By recognizing our own patterns, we can change the ones which are not getting us the outcomes which we want.  As teachers, we are also involved in helping others achieve the outcomes that they want – in particular to learn effectively and in a way that is enjoyable, to become a valued member of their learning group and so on.

One of the most important core concepts of NLP is the recognition of differences in cognitive style or what NLP calls “representational systems”. There are five of these systems (Visual, Auditory, Kinaesthetic, Olfactory and Gustatory) of which the first three are most commonly used by NLP and are known as VAK. Everyone has a preference for one of the styles even if they use all at times, and this determines how they take in and access information and thus how they experience the world. This is often reflected in the metaphors that people use.


In the classroom, our non-conscious teaching style will tend to reflect our representational preferences, but our students will probably learn best if activities are geared to their predominant systems. For instance, my predominant system as a professor is visual and my favorite classroom activities reflect this.  For example, I naturally prefer written explanations to spoken ones, tend to limit the amount of listening comprehension I do with students, and so on; however, if I only followed my own preferences, there would be a mismatch between my teaching style and my students’ learning style. I need to look consciously at the activities I plan for each lesson to ensure that all styles are catered for, not just my own. Or if I’m teaching one-to-one, I can gear activities specifically to that learner’s style.Some common classroom activities and the three main representational preferences which they match are in the following list – one may surprise you :
  • activities involving story-telling, listening to cassettes, oral explanations, songs and music, repetition, silent planning, conversation (Auditory)
  • mime, drama, role play, activities involving movement, the manipulation of flashcards or objects, note-taking (Kinaesthetic)
  • activities involving graphs, pictures, video, written exercises, texts and explanations, use of the board, note-taking, highlighting with different colors (Visual)

Why would you think note-taking is listed under kinaesthetic? I am a copious note taker and have been all through my educational life; however I rarely if ever look at the notes again. It is the mere physical act of writing them, the feeling of the pen forming the words, which is important to fix the ideas in my brain. How often have you said to students “It’s not necessary to write it down – it’s all on the handout.” ? But for some people it is necessary.

NLP, then, helps us “see things from the other point of view” and to realize that our own way of thinking, speaking, and acting, although it seems so natural and obvious, is not necessarily shared by the students in front of us. To maximize their learning, we may need to adapt the way we plan and conduct our lessons, to change the activity types we use, and to re-think the way we communicate.

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