What do we mean by ‘thinking’?

Currently I’m working on a textbook called Tools for Thinking. It’s based on a series of activities that I’ve been using with my third year Japanese university students for the last few years. As well as being a language skills textbook, it also aims to provide practice in a range of critical thinking skills which can be applied to real-world personal and professional situations. Read More

GOAL Textbook – 2nd Edition

Last year, I wrote a textbook with Ben Backwell called GOAL – Identify and Achieve Your Life Goals. We have been very happy with the feedback from teachers and students. However, as a tool for learning English, we felt that the book could be improved. So we have been hard at work.

And now after several months of rewriting, we are proud to present the 2nd edition of GOAL.

160309 GOAL Textbook Cover

Read More

A Decision

One night, I was playing guitar and singing in an Irish pub in Japan and a young woman walked in. I knew that I knew her from somewhere, and she clearly recognized me. At the break, she came up and asked me in excellent English that difficult question, “Do you remember me?”
I had to admit that I remembered her face but couldn’t remember where we had met.

She told me that I had been her English teacher 8 years previously in high school, and then it all came back to me. Yes, I remembered her. I remembered her whole class because it was my least favourite class of all my time teaching in high school. I remembered that horrible feeling just walking towards the classroom before either of their two weekly lessons.

And I also remember making a promise to myself at that time that I would try harder in those classes than any other classes. So before every single class, I stood outside for a moment and reminded myself of that decision.  At the end of the year, I was so happy to say goodbye to them. I still didn’t like that group of students, but I had tried.
The young woman in the Irish pub remembered those lessons, too.
“There were some bad students in that class, but you tried so hard in every lesson to teach us that you really made me interested in English. Because of that, I decided to go to the United States to study nursing. Your class really inspired me. It changed my life.”
We never know when our little efforts and little words can change a person’s life and bring happiness in ways that we could never have imagined.

Matchers and Mismatchers in the Classroom

When you have free time, do you like to enjoy doing things that you have always done or do you prefer to try out new things?

How about going on holidays? Do you like to visit the same place year after year or do you like to visit new places and experience different things?

Or learning – do you like to learn in the same way or do you prefer to us new technology to learn?

If you strongly prefer to have and do the same things that you have always have and done, then NLP would call you a Matcher. If you strongly prefer to have and do different things, then NLP would call you a Mismatcher.

Another way of describing this is to talk about Sameness and Difference. A Matcher looks for the same things as usual. A Mismatcher looks for different things.

Of course, most people are somewhere in between. So you might be mainly looking for the same and also looking for something a little new at the same time. Or you might be mainly looking for new things, but want a little bit of the familiar in there, too.

As you begin to think about this distinction, you will probably notice that each of your students tends toward Matcher or Mismtcher. Neither is better or worse in any way. They are just different ways of looking at the world, and both can be useful in different situations.

Once you start to notice this distinction, you can begin to tailor your classroom language to achieve the best results.

For Matcher: “This is very similar to what we learned last week, so you will probably find it easy to learn today’s topic.”

For Mismatcher: “Much of today’s topic is completely new, and I think you will find it interesting to learn it.”

Eyes Up for Better Presentations

As teachers, many of us are helping our students to make presentations. Whether it is a simple show-and-tell in a kids’ class or an advanced presentation of fluid dynamics by an aerodynamics PhD candidate, some of the basic principles are exactly the same. I know very well because I have taught in both of these situations and beneath the very different content and language level is the basic need for good  human interaction.

And besides helping your students make better presentations, it is also useful thinking about how you can make your own presentations better. After all, as a teacher you are actually presentations every single day that you walk into a classroom and stand in front of your students.

When I was doing an NLP course in California at NLPU a few years ago, we had a guest trainer called Michael Colgrass. Michael is a successful composer as well as a trainer, so he knows a few things about dealing with an audience.

Michael Colgrass teaches people how to walk on to a stage using what he calls the “Eyes Up” technique. It’s very simple. Keep your eyes up as you are walking on to the stage and keep looking at the audience.

But it begins before you ever walk onto the stage.

Your presentation begins the moment that your name is called or the moment that you stand up to walk towards the front of the room, or perhaps earlier. That is the moment when people begin to watch you.

After this moment, the space in the room is your space. The time for the presentation is your time. And as you walk to the stage, you need to be aware that people’s eyes are already on you and that they are already judging your performance in the presentation.

So how do you prepare for all this attention. A key factor is to be in a good state, i.e. confident and ready. One good way to do that is simply to take a few deep breaths. Some presenters have a little mantra that they say to themselves to get ready, e.g. “I am ready…they are going to love me, I am ready…they are going to love me.” Some people like to stretch. It doesn’t really matter what your routine is–the point is that it should be a routine, something that you practice and can then reliably do in order to enter that state of confidence and readiness before that magic moment when you stand up.

And after standing up, what’s next? You walk towards that stage or the front of the room, with your body erect and your head held high. Of course, you should be “eyes up”, noticing the people around you and staying in your good state.

If there are steps to the stage, be sure that you have already visualized and figured out how you are going to climb them while still keeping your eyes up.

And then once you are on the stage, walk to the center, and make the space into your space. For the length of the presentation, it is your space!

When you begin, make eye contact with the whole room. Make sure that you look at everyone or at least at each section of the room. Strong eye contact at the beginning can make a connection that can strengthen your whole presentation as well as giving both you and the audience the confidence that you can do a great job.

You will probably use notes or slides or similar throughout  your presentation. That is fine–in that case, you probably won’t have your eyes on the audience the whole time.

But do remember to check back in with them. Words are important, but there are few things that can make a connection in communication as strongly as the human eyes.

The content of your presentation is important, and I’m sure that you spend lots of time preparing it to make sure that it is as good as possible. Language, however, can be regarded as either transactional or interactional. Transactional language is used to communicate information. Interactional language is used to strengthen or change the social relationships between people in a group. A presentation is both transactional and interactional.

So, of course your content is important (transactional language), but it is also vital to remember that you are presenting yourself (interactional language) and your image in front of the audience is extremely important.

Ghandi said “My life is my message.” By this, he meant that his whole life and way of presenting himself to the world was congruent with the content that he was conveying.

In your presentations or when you are helping your students make better presentations, aim for congruence. Think about your use of words, gestures, voice, eyes, use of space, and visuals. They are all important in helping you to really connect to your audience.

And if you want to hear the important message of this article one more time: Eyes Up!



The very best way to really understand how to use the powerful techniques and ideas of NLP in your classroom is to come along to a workshop. Our introductory workshop at Standing in Spirit is a two-day intensive workshop (Strategies for Success) that will help you to become the best teacher that you can be. You will also learn to apply NLP to other areas of your life and you may be surprised at how quickly these techniques can improve your communication and effectiveness in every area of your life. Or if you’d like us to set up a workshop at your school or in your area, please contact us!

Storytelling and Metaphors

FAB4 Conference Presentation – Storytelling and the Brain

On July 6, I presented at the FAB4 conference in Nagoya. Actually, I was program chair for the conference this year and I’m happy to say that the whole event was a great success. Feedback from participants has been very positive. FAB4 is the fourth conference by FAB (the rather cool if strange name means First Annual Brain Conference). The theme of the conference is neuroELT – helping language teachers to learn from the fields of psychology and neuroscience. More details are available at the FAB website.

Some of the participants (and folks on Facebook who watched the video) were interested in getting a copy of the slides, so I’ve created a pdf file.

FAB4 – StorytellingandtheBrain (Slideshow)

Update: And here is the handout

StorytellingtheBrain (Handout including some key books and references)

I’ll write up the content as a paper when I get around to it. Funny – that just reminded me of an old round dish that my mother used to love. It was called a Round Tuit. There was a little message on it saying something like “For years people have been putting things off and tuits have been quite difficult to find. Now however, you have finally got a Round Tuit and everything will move forward easily.”

Ah better still – here’s an image of one. Gotta love Google images.

Circle of Excellence

The Circle of Excellence is a great way to manage your own state when you are teaching. It is based on the NLP idea of anchoring. You have probably heard of the story of Pavlov’s dogs. When he rang a bell, he would feed the dogs, and the dogs would salivate. When he had trained the dogs, just ringing the bell would cause the dogs to salivate. In NLP terms, he had created an anchor (the bell) which produced the response (salivation).

Now, I’m not suggesting that you start to salivate every time the bell for class goes. Instead, what you want to do is anchor resourceful states in your circle of excellence. When you have practiced this lots of times, then just by imagining stepping into your circle, you can easily enter those resourceful states.

For example, supposing you decide that you want to feel confident in the classroom. Then you can add the state of confidence to your circle. Other useful states for teaching could be openness, energetic, calmness, whatever you believe will help you to be in the best state.

Before you do the Circle of Excellence process, choose three states that you would like to always have in your classroom.

1. _________  2. _________ 3. _________

The Circle of Excellence Process

  1. Imagine a circle in front of you about one meter in diameter.
  2. Remember a time when you felt completely [State].
  3. What did you see, hear, and feel at that time?
  4. When you are sure that you are completely in that state, step into the circle.
  5. Break state.
  6. Repeat with other states that you want to add to the circle.
  7. Test your circle. Make it stronger!
  8. Pick up your circle and put it into your pocket! Use it and keep it well recharged!

Remember that this is not magic – it is simply anchoring resources to an imaginary circle. I promise you that it will work, just in the same way as it worked for Pavlov’s dogs, but you need to practice. If you practice your circle of excellence for a few minutes each day for a week or so, you will soon be able to use it to be in the perfect state for every class! The more you use your circle, the better it will become.

As always, enjoy using NLP, enjoy your teaching, and let us know how you get on.

©Copyright 2012 by Dr. Brian Cullen

15 Ideas for Using Metaphors and Stories in Class

The metaphor database at Standing in Spirit provides hundreds of stories and metaphors that you can use in your EFL classes. You can of course use them as listening practice or to teach particular language patterns or vocabulary. One of the other useful ways to use these stories is to introduce your students to concepts and ideas that will motivate them and help them to learn more effectively. This  article suggests how 15 of the stories in the database could be used. I have chosen 15 ideas because that is the number of weeks that we have in one semester at our school. These are not intended as lesson plans – simply little ideas that will spark your own creativity. Please share your ideas, too! Oops, I seem to have gone above 15 – there are just too many good things to do with stories and metaphors 🙂

1. Imagine that you could speak English.

Encourage students to consider the possibilities which would open them to them if they could speak English well.

  • How would it feel if you were able to speak English really well?
  • What opportunities and possibilities are open to really good speakers of English?

Suggested Metaphor(s): The General

2. Take responsibility for your own learning

Class time is very limited. I meet my students once a week for 90 minutes. Apart from their English study, they have many other classes. As teachers, we do what we can to help our students learn English, but ultimately a person must take responsibility for their own learning. Some words like “sell” have a natural and required opposite word like “buy”. Even when “Teaching” occurs, that does not necessarily mean that “Learning” takes place! Suggested Metaphor(s): Balls and Cats, The Blue Butterfly

3. There are many ways to learn English

Some students successfully learn English through watching movies. Some achieve it through studying for a TOEIC or TOEFL test. Others learn by listening and singing along to their favourite songs. There are many ways to learn English, and all students can benefit from trying out different ways of learning. Suggested Metaphor(s): Blind Men and an Elephant

4. Set Learning Goals

Having students set learning goals can be very helpful in keeping motivated and tracking progress. There is also a great sense of achievement when the goal is achieved, or at least feedback if it isn’t reached! There are many possible goals. Making a numerical goal of some form is often useful because it can be clearly measured.  Possible numerical targets include getting 700 in the TOEIC test, holding five conversations of at least 10 minutes, reading 10,000 words of English in the semester, or writing two academic essays. Suggested Metaphor(s): Caps

5. Look on Difficulties or Problems as ‘Challenges’

In Japan, we often hear our EFL students say “Eigo ha muzukashii”, i.e. “English is difficult.” And of course, learning a language can be difficult. We can remind our students of other things that they have learned in their lives, such as a sport or a musical instrument and let them notice how rewarding it ultimately can be to overcome a difficulty. Suggested Metaphor(s): The Obstacle in the Road

6. Pay Attention and Notice Things

We want our students to pay attention and to focus on their learning. That will really help them to improve. I like to use this particular story because it talks about how to get good results in tests, and students always pay attention to that! Suggested Metaphor(s): Exam Questions

7. Manage Your Own Feelings

Students have a life outside the classroom (and I am very glad that they do!) and sometimes they bring in feelings and issues that negatively affect their learning. It is good for their learning of English (and for their whole lives) to remind them each person is in control of their own emotions and feelings. In NLP, we use the word ‘State’ to mean the total physical and mental condition that a person is in. A good state facilitates good learning. Suggested Metaphor(s): Two Wolves Inside 

8. Try Something Different

Sometimes students get stuck in their learning and can’t seem to progress forward. Sometimes students come to me and say, “no matter how many times I can’t listen, I never understand” or “I’ll never be able to write a proper essay in English.”  As Einstein is supposed to have said, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again, and yet expecting a different result. Sometimes, the very best approach to a problem is to do something completely different. Suggested metaphor(s): The Calf

9. You Get What You Work For

There is no royal road to learning. The way to learn English is pretty clear – study it and use it! There’s going to be lots of difficulties (and fun) along the way, but you will get back whatever you put into it. Suggested metaphor(s): The Carpenter

10. See Your Own Improvement

There is so much standardized testing that students are always comparing themselves with other students. Even in cases when a student has improved greatly, she may not recognize this because her peers have improved, too. While standardized testing can be useful in some cases, it is also useful to look back and consider how much you have improved since one year ago or two years ago. I like the story “Choosing the Emperor” because it reminds us that learning and progress is something that we must do as individuals. Of course, working in a group can help, but ultimately learning is a personal endeavour. Suggested metaphor(s): Choosing the Emperor 

11. You Already Have the Resources You Need

Some keen students keep buying new books or DVDs or whatever materials are being promoted in the latest fad. Realistically, the Internet has made resources available for learning English to anyone with a decent Internet connection: Free materials on websites, free dictionaries, free quizzes, free lessons, free telephone calls on Skype … all the resources are now available. The resources are out there, and the teacher can introduce them to students, but the person who needs to learn from them can only be each individual student. Suggested metaphor(s): Treasure

12. You are not your (Past) Behaviour

Some students have been told things like, “you will never be good at English”, or they have acquired this belief by failing a test or getting a bad score. It is useful to separate Identity from Behaviour. Sure, in the past a student may have failed a test (Behaviour), but that does not mean that the student is a failure (Identity). The student may be a Japanese person (Identity), but that does not mean that they cannot speak English (Behaviour). Suggested metaphor(s): Writing Teacher

13. The Impossible can Become Possible

When a student is a low level of fluency in English, it may seem impossible to ever reach a high level and this can be very discouraging. This kind of limiting belief  is very common. Using stories and introducing role models of people who have walked the same learning path can be very useful. Suggested metaphor(s): The Four Minute Mile 

14. One Step at a Time

Pretty much anything can be learned if we break it down into little chunks and take it one step at a time. Suggested metaphor(s): Mountain Climbing, Eating an ElephantThe Starfish

15. Relax in Tests

Tests make people nervous. Unfortunately, in most cases, being nervous is actually bad for your performance. Suggested metaphor(s): The Archer

16. Identify what is Important to You

Get students to think about their own values – what is important to them in their lives and how does English relate to that? For example, some students will recognize that English is helpful for getting a good job. Others will connect English to their hobbies such as travel, music, or soccer. Some students really want to talk to people from other countries. Identifying values can really help to direct learning in the best directions. Suggested metaphor(s): The Fisherman and the Businessman

17. Keep Trying

Learning can be a long old road – keep trying, keep moving forward, stay open! Suggested metaphor(s): The Rose

Brian’s Selection of Classroom Stories

The story website has moved to http://briancullen.net/stories
The links below may or may not still work, so please do a search on the new site if you can’t find anything.

This website has a collection of almost 200 stories for teachers and trainers. On this page, I’ve included some of my favourites – especially the ones that can be spun out into a 5 or 10 minute story. While some of the stories are quite short and can just be used illustrate a point, many of them can be told in a much longer narrative style. These provide great listening practice and a way to really engage students.

As they are written, some of the stories may appear quite short. Use your imagination and creativity to expand them and to add interesting details. I often use the split-story technique to tell the stories. In other words, I start the story and break off at a place where students are really wondering what is going to happen next. Then I go onto another activity. If you do this, be sure to finish the story at the end of class or the students may not allow you to leave!

And as always, if you have any more great stories for teaching, please share!

  1. The General
  2. The Obstacle in Our Path
  3. Exam Questions
  4. Two Wolves Within
  5. The Carpenter
  6. The Blue Butterfly
  7. Rich and Poor
  8. Treasure
  9. The Four Minute Mile
  10. The Hospital Room
  11. How Much do You Make an Hour?
  12. Sir Lancelot and The Essential Question 
  13. Mountain Climbing
  14. The Fisherman and the Businessman
  15. The Cinderella Communication Complex
  16. Krishna
  17. Starfish
  18. The Rose
  19. The Egg
  20. The Key
  21. Good or Bad?
  22. Taming an Elephant
  23. That’s Right
  24. The Drum
  25. The Axe
  26. Knowledge
  27. The Farmer
  28. Centipede
  29. Two Monks
  30. Buddha and the Heckler
  31. Iceskating
  32. Harvard Students
  33. The Beggar and the Judge
  34.  Words of wisdom from the Hodja
  35. Educating the Donkey
  36. The Bear
  37. The boy who banged a drum
  38. Always Be a Deaf Frog 
  39. The Giving Tree
  40. The Cracked Pot
  41. The Car Dealer
  42. The Mousetrap
  43. The Mule
  44. The Jigsaw
  45. Life Is Like a Cup of Coffee
  46. Two frogs in the milk
  47. A turn of the screw
  48. The Eagle’s Egg
  49. The carrot, the egg, and the coffee bean
  50. The Seeker of Truth
  51. A Meeting of Minds
  52. Heaven and Hell
  53. Dandelions
  54. The Two Drops of Oil
  55. The Traveller
  56. The Desert
  57. Gandhi and the Boy
  58. The Watermelon
  59. Is it full?
  60.  Rose
  61. Death Valley
  62. School is Boring
  63. Beth Gellert
  64. Buddha and the Gift
  65. The Bear and the Factory
  66. The Christmas Ham

NLP Tips for Storytelling in the Classroom



Brian Cullen, Nagoya Institute of Technology
Sarah Mulvey, Nagoya City University
Brad Deacon, Nanzan University

Storytelling has many benefits in the EFL classroom and other learning contexts including providing listening practice, aiding in vocabulary acquisition, and motivating students. In this paper, we will introduce some tips from the field of NLP to help you make storytelling into an even better learning experience in your classroom or learning context.

The field of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) developed in the 1970s when Richard Bandler and John Grinder decided to study and model the communication patterns of expert communicators including family therapist, Virginia Satir, and hypnotherapist, Milton Erickson. Both of these people were famous for their ability to communicate effectively in ways that would help a client change and learn. One of the ways that they achieved this was to use stories in their communication in order to help their clients to learn to look at the world and at problematic situations in new ways. Bandler and Grinder went on to codify the language patterns of these expert communicators and others in a way that could be understood easily. More importantly, the results of their modelling means that teachers like you can also learn to use these language patterns and techniques in the storytelling in your classrooms.

In this paper, we introduce just a few of the many tricks and techniques that NLP has modelled from these experts of storytelling. At the end of each section, we have added a few tasks for the reader. We invite you to enjoy trying out these tasks and we hope that they will help you to bring these useful NLP tips effectively into the stories of your own classroom, creating an even better learning environment for your students.

Tip #1: Spatial anchors

Perhaps one of the simplest and most important things that you can do in the classroom is to create a special location for your storytelling. It is likely you already use special locations or areas of your classroom to some degree, but you may not have thought about it consciously yet. For example, you might stand behind the teacher desk when you take the roll. Or you might have particular areas on the blackboard or whiteboard where you write things like homework or class activities. Many teachers have a space on the left hand side of the board for classroom activities and space on the right hand side of the blackboard for homework. Why do we do this? We choose and use specific areas so that students become aware of these areas and know to look in these areas for the list of classroom activities or the homework.

In NLP, we call this use of a standard location a spatial anchor, and this simple concept can be very powerful in preparing students to easily enter the state of curiosity that is best for listening to a story. In our own classrooms, we maintain a special area that we use for storytelling and we only enter that area when we are going to tell a story. When we finish the story, we make sure that we have stepped out of that area again.

In a classroom, you can emphasize this storytelling area physically, for example by setting a chair on the left hand side of the teachers desk at the front of the classroom. Always make sure that you keep this spatial anchor completely clean. In other words, if you are doing any other activity such as taking the roll or teaching vocabulary to students, make sure that you are in another area of the classroom.

Now if we were to ask my students about the spatial anchors, maybe some or even most of them probably would have no conscious awareness of how we use the positions in the classroom, but at an unconscious level they are certainly aware. This unconscious awareness is particularly obvious to us when we use the storytelling spatial anchor in the classroom. After we have used it several times, then each time then we step into the position we can see students start to lean forward slightly and become more curious about what story is going to be told.

Think about it:

  1. What positions do you already use in your classroom for particular activities?
  2. What positions would you like to set up for your storytelling?
  3. Draw a map of your classroom and show the spatial anchors that you would like to use.

Tip #2: Enriching Maps of the World with Stories

One of the fundamental concepts of NLP states that the map is not the territory. In other words, the mental maps that we have to represent the world are not actually the same as the world itself. People don’t interact with the world directly but rather interact with their maps of the world. Some of these maps are more useful than others. For example, a student who has a mental map with the belief that “learning English is difficult because I am Japanese” is likely to learn less effectively than another student who has the belief “English is easy to learn because there are so many fun resources on the Internet”. Of course, we can try to get students to consciously change their beliefs and mental maps, but sometimes it is easier to change a belief or install a new belief at an unconscious level using a story.

Stories are of course often used as teaching tools. Many stories that are told to children are actually moral lessons in disguise. For example, recently I had the students in one of my classes bring in stories to read to other students. One of them brought the classic children’s story, The Goose Who Laid the Golden Egg. I have retold it briefly below:

Once upon a time, there was a man who had a goose that wouldn’t lay any eggs. Then one day, to his great surprise, he found a big golden coloured egg beside the goose. It was as heavy as lead, and at first he thought that it was a stone. Then he realized that it was an egg of pure gold! The next day, the goose laid another golden egg, and then another on the next day, and so it continued every day. The man sold the golden eggs and became very wealthy. As he grew more wealthy, he began to become more greedy. One day, he thought to himself, “why do I have to wait each day for the goose to lay the golden egg? Inside the goose, there must be a huge store of gold.” So the man got a sharp knife and killed the goose. He opened up its belly and he got a big surprise when he looked inside. Because inside, there was nothing there at all.

The student then went on to explain the ‘moral’ or ‘meaning’ of the story, saying that “the meaning of the story is that you should think carefully before carrying out any serious actions.” In our classrooms, there are many ‘morals’ or messages that we may want to convey to our students.

Think about it:

  1. What is a message you would like to send to the students in your class?
  2. What is a story that can be used to convey the message in a fun metaphorical way?

Tip #3: Teaching Patterns through Stories

Isomorphism! This complicated sounding word is simply another way of saying that one thing can be equivalent to another. In NLP, we would say that one map is equivalent to another map. The patterns that we want our students to learn may have an isomorphic equivalent in a story, or we can construct a story that provides an isomorphic equivalent. In the story of the Golden Goose, the man and the goose are unlikely to actually exist in the real world, but isomorphism allows us to relate these ideas to a parallel situation in our own lives. The underlying pattern or deep structure of the story is the same.

Stories are a great way of teaching patterns and ideas without explicitly teaching them. For example, through a story a problem can be solved. While solving the problem in the story may not actually change anything in the real world, if we design a story properly, we can use it to teach a problem-solving strategy. In the story of the Golden Goose above, we were teaching students not to rush into serious things. This kind of negative advice can be very useful. We can also use stories to teach students positive steps on how to achieve something. Here is a little story that I constructed to teach a particular pattern.

Taro really wanted to speak English better because he realized that many companies in Japan now require a good level of English, and everyone wants a good job, don’t they? So Taro started to think about other things that he could do well.

He is really good at baseball, so he started remembering how he learned to play baseball. He really admired the people on the top baseball team in the school and he imagined himself playing there on that field with the whole school watching him. Those players were great role models for him and he dreamed of being like them.

But of course, Taro knew that dreaming and imagining is not enough. You’ve got to take action, don’t you? So every day after school, he used to go to a particular place and practice with a group of his friends. And when he practiced, it was fun – it didn’t seem like work at all – he just felt excited. Sometimes, he got tired through practice but he just kept on going because he really wanted to be good.

As he practiced, he became more and more interested in baseball and he began to notice things related to baseball everywhere that he looked. It took quite some time, but eventually Taro was able to learn all the necessary skills and use them in the baseball games.

Eventually, all of his hard practice paid off and he was selected for the top baseball team in the school. Now, it was him that the whole school was watching and admiring.

Imagine that – he had become a role model for other people!

In this story, the goal was to model a good pattern for learning English by telling the story of Taro remembering the steps he took when he was learning baseball. For your students, it doesn’t have to be baseball, of course. It can be anything that your students have already learned successfully. Some of your students have learned how to play a sport very well. Others have become highly skilled at a musical instrument or tea ceremony or some other skill that took a lot of effort.

We can use stories like these to draw students’ attention to the fact that they already have successful learning experiences. At an unconscious level, these stories will also help students to revitalize the learning processes that they have used in the past. In this way, we are teaching or reteaching patterns of success through our storytelling.

Think about it:

  1. What is a pattern or behaviour that you would you like your students to develop?
  2. What are the steps of the pattern?
  3. What is a story that you could use to teach this pattern?

Tip #4: Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic Language (VAK)

When we use language, we are actually creating images in other people’s heads. It’s almost magical. Through a few well chosen words, we can create vivid images, sounds, and feelings within our students’ minds. If you are interested in learning more about the neuroscience behind storytelling, and how humans are really storytelling animals, you can check out a presentation at: http://www.standinginspirit.com/fab4-conference-presentation-storytelling-and-the-brain/

Or if you would prefer to jump into understanding and creating that magic, take a few moments to notice the differences between these two descriptions of the same event.

Description 1
John went into the room. He sat down and looked around. He was scared.

Description 2

John looked down at the discoloured carpet on the corridor floor behind him, took a deep breath and then, pushing the cold metal door open, he walked slowly and nervously into the small room. There were three gray office chairs in the center of the room. He chose the one nearest the door, sat down and looked around. The gray walls and low ceiling of the room, combined with the constant irritating hum of the ancient air conditioner unit, added to the heaviness of the air. He felt a drop of cold sweat on his neck. He was scared.

These descriptions create very different results in the mind of the listener. The second description makes much better use of Visual (V), Auditory (A), and Kinesthetic (K) words. Modern neuroscience research shows that we understand visual words by activating the visual cortex in our brain. For example, when we hear the words “discoloured carpet”, we comprehend that word by using the visual cortex in our brain to create an internal mental picture of a discoloured carpet. Similarly, auditory words such as “hum” activate the auditory cortex and kinesthetic words such as “heaviness” and “felt a drop of cold sweat” activate the sensorimotor cortex as we listen and try to create meaning out of the words.
Using rich imagery in our stories is not just poetic and more interesting stylistically. The use of VAK language in description 2 actually activates the listeners’ brains at a much deeper level. By using this kind of language, we are engaging the students’ attention and neurological resources at a much deeper level.

Think about it:

  1. What is a story that you have used with your students in the past, or a story that you would like to use?
  2. What words can you use to make the pictures more real for your students?
  3. What words can you use to make the sounds clearer for your students?
  4. What words can you use to help your students feel the actions of the characters in the story and to feel the objects in the story?

Tip #5: Split Stories

Do you remember those old television programs like The Six Million Dollar Man that used to finish each episode with a crisis or dramatic situation, ending with the inevitable “To be continued …”? Well, maybe you aren’t old enough, but we can see the same technique being used today in more subtle ways. Even on social networking sites like Facebook, the constant news feed is using the same kind of technique. Why do you think television program makers and website designers use this technique? The answer is that they want us to feel a heightened sense of curiosity, and as teachers that is exactly the same thing that we want to see in our students. It is when students are really curious that they are ready to learn.

Split stories are a common technique used in NLP. They came out of the work of the hypnotherapist, Milton Erickson. Erickson used to tell a story to his clients and then switch effortlessly into another story, then finally returning to finish the original story. In the split story technique, you begin telling a story and stop at an important moment in the story. You can then step out of your storytelling position (remember tip #1), look back and point at your storytelling location where you were standing or sitting a few moments before, and say “you’re probably curious about what happens next in the story, and it’s good to be curious when you’re learning English, so keeping that curiosity, let’s move on to the next activity, and we’ll come back to the story later.”

Split stories can be particularly useful when you want the students to unconsciously come up with their own answers to a problem or question. For example, in the story about the Golden Goose, we could stop before the man killed the goose and say something like, “and what do you think happened in a situation like this when the person didn’t think seriously about the consequences of his actions?”

Think about it:

  1. What is a story that you could use as a split story?
  2. When could you break the story in order to maximize student curiosity?

Tip #6: Making Suggestions Through the Words of a Character in the Story

Another common technique from NLP is to make suggestions by saying them as someone else’s words. In a therapy situation, the therapist might use this NLP technique by saying something like, “I heard of one person who overcame depression by saying to themselves everyday, ‘you can do a little exercise and think of a little thing that you are grateful for.’ Although the therapist has not said the words directly to the client, the effect can be the same.

In our classrooms, we can use the characters in the stories that we tell as a wonderful way of getting suggestions across to our students without actually saying it to them directly. For example, we can get a character within a story to say the words that we want our students to hear and accept. For example, if I were to say to you that my NLP trainer told me that Richard Bandler had told him that stories are absolutely wonderful… you would still receive the main message that stories are absolutely wonderful, although I didn’t actually say it to you, did I? In NLP, this is called an embedded quote because the suggestion is embedded in at least one level of quotation. Here is an example that you might use in a story:

And the queen said to the knight, “in order to succeed on your quest, you must work hard every single day. Just a few minutes can be enough, yet you must work hard every single day.” When the knight nodded, the queen added, “yes, you already understand, don’t you, so you will work hard every single day.”

You can emphasize an embedded suggestion like this in several ways including:

  • making a particular gesture when you say the important words
  • pausing before the suggestion
  • changing the tone or speed of your voice when you say the suggestion

In NLP, we call this analogue marking because it marks out that particular part of the sentence as being important in some way. Your students probably won’t even notice consciously, but at an unconscious level, the analogue marking makes it more likely that they will accept the greater importance of those words.

Think about it:

  1. Now that you have learned how to embed suggestions in a story, you might like to use that ability to get your students to believe things that will support them in their learning. What would you like your students to believe? What suggestions would you like to give your students?
  2. What story could you incorporate these suggestions into?
  3. How can you incorporate these beliefs and suggestions into your stories so that students are exposed to these facilitating beliefs many times and can eventually accept them and adjust their behaviour appropriately?
  4. Practice by recording yourself on audio or video telling a story. Now tell the same story again making deliberate use of analogue marking with your voice to mark out the important points.

As you can see, NLP has a lot to offer teachers. In this short article, we have introduced just a few of the techniques that you can use in your storytelling to motivate your students, help them take on beliefs that support their learning, and help them to learn both the content of your course and the skill of how to learn.


You can find out more about NLP for teachers at: