Do we use too many words when teaching?

By John Lendrum - March 12th, 2015 | Posted in Article

It is a proven fact that less is sometimes more, and recently I conducted a study on use of words when instructing people. Why did I do this I hear you ask ? the reason is to help students react to short wordings whilst reacting to what they are seeing and thinking about what they are doing, to see if it improves concentration and reaction rates.

My wife is a professional scuba diving instructor, and I’m an advanced diver. How is this relevant ? well underwater you cannot have a conversation, however you use hand signals to give information. For example a thumbs up means “I’m going up” a fist states “I have only 50 bar of air left” so as you can see from one movement of the hand a sentence is made in the mind. This got me thinking.

In driving instruction we use a lot of words to get pupils to do what we require, however I have found of recent that some people just hear noise and not words, as they are concentrating so much on what they are doing, and then ask you to repeat what you have said.


“I would like you to take the next road on the left” or “At the roundabout I would like you to take the third exit to the right” this is a lot of words to translate as well as thinking about the Mirrors they need, the signal they need, the position they need, the gear and then the observations.

I started my study with a lady called Ann. I did not tell her what I was doing and started with the usual driving instruction comments, and found she was reacting late and seemed flustered, generally causing her to signal before mirrors, and then stop unnecessarily at open junctions or roundabouts when it was clear to go.

The second part of the lesson I used the same junctions but changed the wording. For example approaching a junction, I said “Take the Road on the LEFT” or “Roundabout 3rd exit to the RIGHT” or “At the END of the road LEFT” each short sentence with a pause half way.

Ann’s performance improved she was doing her mirrors at the correct time, she was then slowing and getting her gear and looking earlier without stopping unless necessary, at the end of the road remembering to go back into first gear where she had been staying in 2nd or 3rd and then stalling. I was quite amazed at the change.

We stopped by the kerbside to discuss, and I asked her if she had noticed any difference in her driving from first 20 minutes, to the second 20 minutes, and she said she felt more relaxed in the second half. We discussed if she had noticed any change in my instructions, and she said “I noticed you were saying less words and pausing half way through a sentence, and being more precise with certain words” She said she found by hearing less words and key words only, she was able to process easier and felt more flowing.

This inspired me to try this exercise on 10 other students throughout the week, who were at varying levels in their learning. I was amazed at the results; everyone drove better using less words, but accentuating Key words with a pause in the sentence.

From this short study, it does prove that less is more, and will continue to look at ways in using shorter terms and see the effects.

Our aim as instructors is to make the teaching of pupils as easy as possible and this seems to be the way forwards.

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