Read With Me PD: The Power of Our Words (Part 2)

Read With Me PD: The Power of Our Words Blog Reflection Series

This month, I am reading The Power of Our Words: Teacher Language That Helps Children Learn by Paula Denton, EdD. This text is recommended reading as part of the Responsive Classroom Model to teaching. I am reading and reflecting on this book as an SLP working with early elementary-aged children.

General Guidelines for Teacher Language:

1. Be Direct.

2. Convey Faith in Students’ Abilities and Intentions.

3. Focus on Actions, Not Abstractions.

4. Keep It Brief.

5. Know When to Be Silent.

Denton, P. (2018). The power of our words: Teacher language that helps children learn. Turners Falls, MA: Northeast Foundation for Children.

Let’s talk about listening.

Genuinely listening to our students is a foundational skill in behavior management. Educators can’t teach children they do not know. Taking time to genuinely listen to our students, not only helps us learn about their interests, but it opens our eyes to their fear, anxieties, and reservations (which is where most behaviors stem from).

Being genuine listeners also helps us to build further a foundation of trust, which, as I mentioned in the previous post, is vital for fostering a learning environment. Modeling genuine listening shows children that we value their answers. When they feel valued, they are more likely to put thought into their answers, because they trust that we genuinely want to know their response and understand their way of thinking.

In speech therapy sessions, it can be easy to fall into the trap of surface-level listening, because we are busy scaffolding, recalling evidence-based practice, taking accurate data, and often managing multiple different goal areas, never mind student behaviors….and oh yeah, we only have thirty minutes. However, practicing genuine listening skills is necessary not only for building rapport, but it also models effective communication skills.

Be a Genuine Listener

Set aside your ideas and agenda to focus on the student’s words. Then, adjust your body language to be open and focused on your student. Student’s can tell when we ask a question with a specific answer in mind, and they can tell when we are not actually interested in their response. If you want your students to put real thought into your questions, you need to put real effort into listening to their answers. To help make sure you are not asking questions with specific answers in mind, ask open-ended questions to help stimulate their thinking and reflection. Close-ended questions have their place, but try to include open-ended questions in your discussions to engage your students in their learning.

After your student responds, pause to model thoughtfully reflecting on what they have said. Then, paraphrase their response to ensure understanding, acknowledge their ideas, make connections in their thoughts, and provide them new language for expressing their ideas. Don’t just repeat what the student said. Paraphrase using your own words, avoid using “I,” and be brief to keep the focus on the child’s contributions to the discussion.

Do you sometimes struggle with being a genuine listener? Even though I am an SLP, I often struggle with leaving enough silence and asking questions that stimulate thinking. But that is why I am here reading this book…to learn and grow.


Denton, P. (2018). The power of our words: Teacher language that helps children learn. Turners Falls, MA: Northeast Foundation for Children.

Thanks for reading!