The map is not the territory: we all have different maps of the world.’ This presupposition of NLP sums up the concept that what we see on the surface may not actually be what is going on in reality. Teachers searching for different ways to reach students may find that a number of NLP techniques can help them to improve communication, improve learning, establish and maintain rapport and create a supportive atmosphere in their classrooms.
You see, we all perceive the world around us in different ways, I’d like to give teachers insight into the “territory” of their learners. The founders of NLP, John Grinder and Richard Bandler, observed excellent communicators and analysed what exactly they did in order to be able to teach this to others. This was the beginning of NLP, “Neuro” representing the brain and the nervous system which is the home of our behavior, “Linguistic” meaning the words we use to express our thoughts and feelings, and “Programming” which refers to the actions we use to produce results and achieve our goals.
One of places to start in NLP is with the principles. Some of the basics are listed here:
- We communicate on two levels: conscious and unconscious.
- People with the most flexibility have the best chances of achieving the response they desire.
- The more options we have, the greater our chances of success.
- If you keep doing what you have always done, you will always get what you have always gotten.
- If you know exactly what you want, it is easier to get it.
- We cannot change others, we can only change ourselves.
- People are not their behaviors, separate person from behavior. Accept the person, change the behavior
- Rapport means meeting someone in their model of the world.
- The map is not the territory.
The world around us exists in our own perceptions and memories. NLP has named our sensory channels “representational” systems referring to the way we “re-present” or make sense of our external environments. Due to the constant bombardment of the information we receive every day, most people have created a set of filters in order to keep from becoming overwhelmed.
We are bombarded with 11 million bits of info per second. Our brains can only handle 134 bits per second. so what happens to the rest? We delete, distort and generalize all the time… Also, our filters are divided into “representational systems” such as visual, auditory and kinesthetic (VAK) channels, which is what we see, hear and feel. We also have olfactory (smell) and gustatory (taste) sensory channels.
When we are truly relaxed we find it easier to access and make use of each of these sensory channels. However, when we are stressed we tend to rely on our most comfortable channel(s) or our primary rep system. It is possible to perceive information in one channel, store it as a memory using another channel and express it using a third one. By noticing details of how people speak and act, we can better understand the systems they are using at the time. This then enables us to communicate and teach more effectively.
Eye Accessing Cues
Our eye movements (known as eye accessing cues) can hint at which channel we are currently using to access information. These may be very quick movements. You may also notice someone looking in a particular direction for a longer period of time. 80% of the population is normally organized as below and 20% is reversed organized.
- looking up to your left – remembering an image or words
- looking up to your right – constructing or imagining an image or words
- looking to your left – remembering a sound or words
- looking to your right – constructing or imagining a sound or words
- looking down to your left – Talking to yourself
- looking down to your right – accessing your feelings
Listening to the language a person uses can also clue us in as to the representational system they are using at the moment. Visual people tend to use phrases such as “Is it clear?” or “Do you see what I mean?” Auditory people will ask, “Does that sound OK?” or “I hear what you are saying.” Kinesthetic people tend to use action or feeling words such as “Let me walk you through it.” or “It just doesn’t feel right.” When we begin to notice our own language patterns as well as listening more carefully to people around us, we become aware of these patterns emerging again and again.
A third option for determining thought patterns deals with what people do and strategies they use to achieve results. Visually-oriented people need to see information in order to understand it. They often use color-coded systems to help organize material. They like to get handouts and need to take notes so that they can refer to them later. As teachers they may spend time making their handouts look good and as students will often highlight or underline important material. They may, however, have trouble remembering oral instructions.
Auditory people, on the other hand, process information by listening and prefer to concentrate on the voice and tonality of the speaker. They love discussions and remember details of what was discussed. Sometimes they need to think aloud and talk through their thoughts. Auditory learners often acquire excellent accents in foreign languages and are able to express themselves well.
Kinesthetically-oriented people understand information through their feelings and experiences. They need to try things out for themselves, and are often the action-oriented students in a classroom who enjoy hands-on projects and tasks. They tend to use gestures and movements while speaking and may have trouble sitting still for too long a period of time. They enjoy the social aspect of class and it is very important for them to have a good atmosphere in order to feel comfortable.
NLP in the classroom
A basic understanding of NLP techniques can be a great teaching tool. Below are some of the strategies that you can use to incorporate NLP into the classroom.
Re-teaching supply and demand
- Give five students in the class cards which say ‘Employer’ on them.
- Give the rest cards which say ‘Job seeker’.
- Tell the job seekers to try and get a job with one of the employers.
- Ask the class what they did and how they felt.
- Collect all the cards.
- Give the ‘Job seeker’ cards to five students and ‘Employer’ cards to the rest.
- Ask them again to find a job.
- Analyse what the differences were the students and if their behaviour changed when the supply and demand was at different levels.
Rapport in the classroom is one of the most important elements in getting a message across. NLP has specific techniques to learn how to establish and maintain rapport. These include strategies such as matching body language and posture, volume and speed of voice, use of register and slang. Other factors can include distance of speakers and eye contact.
NLP learning strategies
NLP techniques shift the focus from simply memorizing information to using and developing fundamental sensory processes. A simple example of this is teaching spelling: rather than just learning how to spell a word using a conventional mnemonic technique, the student is encouraged to look at the word from their visual remembered eye accessing cue. This method is shown to give students more confidence in their ability to learn, which in turn generates better results.
Anchoring is one of NLP’s most powerful techniques which can be used for any number of states and contexts. It works by focusing on an external trigger which elicits a positive emotional response. So, if a child is in a situation where they need to change their emotional state, anchoring can quickly access the required emotion. For example, a child who suffers from exam nerves can use an anchor to replace their fear with calm.
The Three Minute Exercise
- Work in groups of three: Person A, Person B and an Observer.
- The Observer needs to sit where he/she can easily see Person B.
- Person A begins to tell Person B a story.
- Person B matches body language and posture until he/she gets a signal (after one minute) from the Observer.
- At this point Person B begins to mismatch.
- After a minute of mismatching, the Observer again gives Person B a signal at which point B begins to match again and Person A continues talking for one more minute.
- Discuss what happened in the groups.
The groups in most cases will notice that A will find it more difficult to continue talking when B has begun to mismatch. It might be that A will look around for someone else to talk to or simply stop until B begins to match body language again. This activity is important to show how we can consciously help learners by matching their body language and distract them when we stop doing this.
Many basic NLP techniques can be easily learned. However, they need to be practiced on a daily basis. In the everyday stressful situation of the classroom, it is easy to forget that our learners may be experiencing the world differently than we do, or feel we don’t understand them. For educators who have become used to working with rapport and a mix of methods, they notice positive results very quickly and gain the motivation to continue with these strategies. In the end, they find that changing their own behavior pays off, as they expend less energy to get the same results. With these strategies, improvement will be more easily achieved and concepts understood more readily.
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Sources & References:
- Grinder, M. 1991 Righting the Educational Conveyor Belt. Portland: Metamorphous Press
- O’Connor, J. and J. Seymour. 1990 Introducing Neuro-Linguistic Programming. London: Mandala/Harper Collins
- Revell, J. and Norman, S.(1997) In Your Hands – NLP in ELT. London: Safire Press
- Rosenberg, M. The How of Thinking: The Secrets of Neuro-Linguistic Programming Analytic Teaching, The Community of Enquiry Journal, Volume 20, No. 2.
- Viterbo University: LaCrosse, Wisconsin