Whether it is showing your younger sibling how to ride a bike, helping a friend understand a complex concept, or trying to explain to your grandparents how to use an iPhone, we are all constantly teaching others and could all benefit from some tips on how to improve. Sometimes it is difficult to explain something to someone when you intuitively understand it yourself! As a peer tutor at Bentley University, I am constantly finding better methods and techniques for teaching material to my students. One of the greatest takeaways that I have from this job is that there is no one teaching style that works best for everyone. It is crucial to adapt the teaching style to fit the needs of each unique student. There are, however, some general principles that help for any form of teaching and are important to remember.
1. Be patient
There’s a reason this person came to you for help! Don’t expect them to understand what you are trying to say within thirty seconds and leave feeling satisfied that they understood everything perfectly. Take the time to explain exactly what you mean and address all of their concerns. Let them ask questions. Then, if they still don’t understand, try re-explaining in an entirely different way. Don’t be annoyed if they still don’t understand! Clearly, you are someone they respect and trust to ask for help. So do your best to help them, stay patient, and keep explaining!
^ Don’t do that!
2. Don’t say “you’re wrong” or “that’s a dumb answer”:
This should seem obvious, but telling someone that he or she is wrong or stupid not only doesn’t accomplish anything, it will make them less receptive to learning the material. Instead say something like, “That’s a good point, but actually…” Then explain why the correct answer is correct, and why their answer is not.
The above GIF illustrates exactly what NOT to do.
3. Prepare in advance (espcially if you don’t really know what you are talking about!)
It’s tempting to act like a know-it-all, but never put yourself in the position of guessing or making something up for someone who is trusting you to give them the right answer. Doing your research beforehand allows you to more confidently teach, and if you are teaching someone you should always know what you are talking about! As a tutor, sometimes I have to teach subjects I haven’t taken in awhile. I always make sure I review the material before trying to explain it to someone. Still, no matter how much you prepare, there will always be questions you don’t know the answers to. Help the person look it up, or tell them to wait a second for you to look it up. Often, teaching someone how to find the answer is more valuable than giving them the answer.
4. Constantly motivate and encourage
Whoever you are trying to teach is likely to get discouraged easily unless you remain positive and say he or she is doing a great job. Using the sandwich method can be useful for motivating people to learn: give them a compliment, then a useful critique for improvement, then another compliment. Always think of what you would want to hear if you were in that person’s situation! Make sure your student recognizes the importance of whatever he or she is trying to achieve.
Good luck teaching!