Don’t say “use your words,” do this instead.

Don’t say “use your words,” do this instead.

“Use your words.”

To me, the most ineffective teaching method is telling a child to “use their words.”

I am not innocent- I have used that prompt in the past.  There are a number of reasons I feel we should be cueing our students in different ways.  Students with Autism, emotional challenges, and developmental disabilities often hear these words.

For students with Autism, I see “use your words” as a problem because we are assuming something; that the student has the capability of “using their words” but isn’t.

For students with emotional challenges, we are figuring that there is something that we will unlock for the child when they “use their words.”

For students with developmental disabilities, we are guessing that there are words in there and that there is hope they will use them.

This is not even to consider the prompt dependence that we might foster by giving that cue.  This goes for not just the classroom teacher, special education teacher, or the speech/language pathologist.  It especially goes for the paraprofessional who has the direct contact with students.

Instead of saying “Use your words,” you can:

  • Ask a student a question and wait.  At least 5 seconds- it might seem like the longest wait of your life, but let the silence encourage communication, not your prompt.
  • Make eye contact, give an excited/engaged look, and wait.  5 seconds again- you will be surprised how often this pays off.
  • Say “Tell me”- I know it’s a minor semantic difference, but my experience has shown that this works.
  • Say “You say” or “You do” while pointing to the student.  For some of my students with developmental disabilities, this really pays off.
  • Change the tone of your voice when asking a question.  This re-engages some students who might have been day-dreaming/thinking of something else.
  • Say “I’m listening”- for some students with emotional challenges, I have found this to be successful as well

In the end, we are going to fall into habits when interacting with students.  Our habits are colored by our perception of the students, our previous experiences with other children (not just the ones at school), and our emotions/mood at the time.  You are more likely to fall into old habits when you are stressed, thinking about something else, or upset.  It’s easy to say and not so easy to do, but be mindful of your communication with students.  The simple act of paying attention to the way you phrase questions and engage in conversation will open a new world of possibility.  You don’t have to fall into old habits- you can change how you interact with each moment you are with your student.

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3 thoughts on “Don’t say “use your words,” do this instead.

  1. This is an excellent point, but for some, “use your words” is very effective. We use it as a replacement of SIB behaviors. This particular student can speak and needs to learn to speak instead of hit. We often accompany verbal “use your words” prompt with a 1-5 feelings chart and options for appropriate behavior.

    1. Hi-

      Thanks for your comment- I agree that “use your words” can be useful, I just get concerned when there is an over-reliance on any cue, especially “use your words.” The situation you describe sets up options and gives feedback with the feelings chart. I absolutely LOVE that idea because there is more communication embedded in the routine instead of just a prompt. Thanks again Theresa!

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