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NLP for Teachers Series – Introduction

This series of short articles  provides an introduction for teachers who want to use language and other NLP techniques more effectively in their classes to motivate learners and to facilitate learning.
In the classroom, students may be motivated or demotivated depending on which words and phrases a teacher chooses to use. An effective teacher will carefully choose words and language patterns that influence students positively in their learning. As adults, most of us can probably remember a teacher who motivated us when we were in elementary school, high school or university. It is likely that some of the powerful words that teacher used years ago are still easily remembered today. Even more powerful may be the words that you cannot remember. However, it is those very words that may have caused you to be motivated and apply yourself to learning the subject at hand.
This series draws on the fields of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) and hypnosis. It will present short introductions to embedded suggestions, analogue marking, pacing and leading, spatial anchoring, metaphor, and the Milton model. Many examples are provided, and the teacher will be invited in this series to adapt these to their own unique teaching situations. Avenues for further study and practice are also suggested so that teachers can eventually use NLP naturally and in ways that will best motivate their own students.

Blog Reviews

Review: The Future of Educational Neuroscience. Report

The summary of this report by Kurt Fischer immediately seemed to make sense to me, yet it does attempt to cover an enormous swathe of territory.

“The primary goal of the emerging field of educational neuroscience and the
broader movement called Mind, Brain, and Education is to join biology with cognitive science, development, and education so as to create a sound grounding of education in research on learning and teaching.”

Biology, cognitive science, development … education – those are pretty big areas in themselves and so the name of the area has to be big. Hence, the name Mind, Brain, and Education has emerged.
I have worked as a teacher for about 20 years and was involved in full-time education for a long time before that, so I figure that I know a fair bit about education and the one thing that I can say with certainty is that it is complex and non-homogenous. While there is no doubt that mind and brain are a huge part of education, the social element is so pervasive that I wonder if the name is really suitable. We do not learn as solitary minds or brains, but rather as social beings who are highly influenced by the social context. I’m sure that the discipline of MBE will try to bring in the social element, but the first two words seem to place to emphasis strongly on the individual rather than on the social learning context.

“The field of medicine provides the closest analogy to education, combining
scientific research with practice to improve the long-term well-being of human beings.”

This is an interesting analogy and I would be interested to hear other people’s viewpoints on it. Medicine has traditionally focused on an illness-focused model. Perhaps the same could be said about education? I would like to think that we are focused more on positive growth.
The report calls for more serious research on education (in the classroom) and rightly points out that much of the well-funded research for education has been over-focused on testing.

“Most important, for educational neuroscience to reach its potential, infrastructure must be created to catalyze research on learning and teaching, creating scientific knowledge for education. Then research tools such as brain imaging, analysis of cognitive processing and mental models, and genetics assessment can be used to illuminate the “black box” and uncover underlying learning mechanisms and causal relations (Hinton & Fischer, 2008).”

This quote seems so chunked up and generalized as to be almost pointless. I understand that the report is general in nature, but does this sentence really actually say much?

“Readers find articles more convincing when they contain brain images as opposed to graphs or other illustrations (McCabe & Castel, 2008), and neuroscience information is particularly influential in readers who lack relevant background knowledge (Weisberg et al., 2008).”

So true! A few brain images immediately adds credibility to some quite ludicrous statements. I have admittedly used the same technique myself – flashing an image of a brain scan in order to demonstrate some point which may not truly hold up. There is a long way between pictures/interpretations of momentary brain activity and actual behaviour/learning. As we all know, photoshop can be deceiving, and brain scans are highly subject to interpretation, too ;)
The report authors also note the gap between neural images and behaviour when they say “Moving from knowledge of the brain such as images of brain activity directly to educational application is indeed difficult in many cases.”
I found the slightly chunked-down research goals of the report to be the most useful element.

1. Understanding the Development of Structured Representations
e.g. examining development of phonology in children
2. Understanding Complexity through Models
e.g. Cognitive linguists have analyzed how mental models function in human communication and
learning (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980) [One of my favourite books actually)
3. Creation of Longitudinal Databases

The report promotes better teacher education, more interdisciplinary research, and “creating educational engineers.” The last item jumped out at me because I am an ex-engineer now working in education and the way of thinking in engineering and teaching is generally very different, even at the engineering university where I work. I’m not completely convinced that we can apply the same kind of precise mathematical thinking to education, but as a metaphor it may be useful.
The report suggest that “They will have expertise at translating or applying findings from cognitive science and neuroscience to learning in classrooms and other educational settings.”
It’s a nice idea and one that seems worth investigating.
A useful suggestion in this report is ” Asking Grant Holders to Use Shared Measures in their Studies”. There is such wastage and replication within all areas of research because of a lack of standardization. Of course, academic and research freedom is useful, but so too is standardization!


Overall, I didn’t find this report to be useful. It seems to be written as a consensus report trying to bring together researchers in different areas under a common banner of MBE. Perhaps this is useful in sharing research findings and combining different findings. At this point in my reading in this area, it wasn’t really a useful article. Perhaps if it could be chunked into smaller bites, it might be better.

Blog Reviews

Review: Dynamic Cycles of Cognitive and Brain Development

Dynamic Cycles of Cognitive and Brain Development

This is an interesting chapter from the book, The Educated Brain, which was published in 2008. Recent research has shown that human development can be better understood as a dynamic process rather than a fixed set of development phases.

Neurocognitive development should be conceived not as a ladder of successive stages but as a
complex network of interactions and attractors, convergent and divergent paths,
nested cycles, stabilities and instabilities, progressions and regressions, clusters of
discontinuities and stable levels of performance.

The complexity and detail in this quote are a clear sign of the growing recognition that neurological development is a complex dance between genetics and environment, or in more traditional terminology between nature and nurture. A child’s brain does not develop in clear steps forward, but rather jumps backwards and forwards, developing simultaneously in different directions. This reminds me of Steven Pinker’s wonderful book, Words and Rules, in which he discusses the development (and apparent regression) of language by using the example of the past tense. Initially, a child learns all irregular verbs as words (lexis) and says them correctly. However, when the child learns how to form the regular past tense (e.g. adding -ed to the stem of the verb), he/she overgeneralizes this to all verbs including irregular verbs and hence makes mistakes. Eventually the child manages to create the right balance between words and rules. Pinker’s example illustrations several most of the concepts in the quote above including:
– a complex network
-interactions and attractors
– convergent and divergent paths (Rules of grammar can be considered as convergent and Words can be considered as divergent)
– stabilities and instabilities
– progressions and regressions
Interestingly, in the overview to this paper, while Fischer initially suggests that a dynamic model is superior to a level-based model, he then suggests a ten-level developmental scale. While this initially suggested a contradiction to me, I assume that both perspectives (dynamic/cyclical and linear) are necessary to describe cognitive development.
I like the observation that “public expectations about relating brain science to educational practice are running far ahead of the realities of scientific knowledge.” It seems to me that we are still a long way from being able to make clear statements for the classroom, but of course in the meantime this is a fascinating area and just thinking about it can give us great teaching ideas.
The information about the growth of the cortex was completely new to me.

A prime
example is the growth of the cortex, which grows six layers in a cyclical
process of neuron generation and migration, as described by Rakic (1971;
1988). A single growth process thus produces six distinct layers in which
cells for different layers end up with vastly different functions, even
though they are all created by the same process.

To think that something as complex as the cortex can be developed in this way through evolution and to be repeated for every child is a truly wondrous thing. And that we can contemplate the wonder with that same cortex is a higher level of wonder again!
The graphs showing increasing (and sometimes decreasing) pronoun use as age increases is fascinating and is a good illustration of the spurts in performance:

Infants, children,adolescents, and young adults all move through periods when their skills are leaping forward at a fast pace, especially under conditions that support optimal performance (upper line).

and also of the periods in between these spurts:

In more ordinary performance, where they are not pushing the limits of their capacity, they commonly show either linear growth or unsystematic change.
Figure 8.2 is very similar to a figure that Robert introduced in one of his conference presentations. I have added it below:
I am still struggling a little in understanding how these ‘levels’ in the figure are actually realized in practice. Fischer helpfully answers part of my question by noting that a child’s development does not actually follow this linear progress for all skills simultaneously. Rather, people develop in a web-like manner with many strands progressing at the same time, all of which could be travelling at different speeds. In addition, people can regress or perform at lower levels than expected if the context is not supportive.
Fischer gives a detailed explanation of the development from single abstractions to abstract mappings all the way up to principles. I must confess to getting a bit lost in some of these explanations ;)
It is very interesting that spurts in EEG energy seem to correspond to the ages for cognitive spurts.
The description of the development of the cortex is also useful, especially:
The prefrontal cortex leads
the way, since empirical evidence indicates that the large majority of
systematic changes with age in networks involve connections between the
prefrontal cortex and other regions.

Figure 8.10 is also interesting and I have reproduced it below.
It is useful to see that skill level naturally rises and drops cyclically and that it is not anything that we are doing wrong in the classroom ;)

The collapses do not indicate difficulties. Instead they are normal and
required, reflecting the need to build and rebuild a skill with variations so
that the person can eventually sustain it in the face of changes in context
and state.

The section on p145-146 is illuminating in warning about the potential dangers of brain science claims for education. The researchers used their data to claim that no learning could occur during particular development phases and so no new concepts should be introduced at these times. This kind of prescriptive approach can clearly be dangerous, especially in our current state of knowledge, and without a clear understanding of individual education contexts.
Overall, I found this paper useful in understanding the development of the human brain over time. 


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Helping Students to Stay in L2 with Logical Levels

Working Paper 2012
Brian Cullen, Nagoya Institute of Technology

Ben Backwell, Nagoya City University

All comments and feedback are welcome

  One of the most commonly reported problems in EFL classrooms in Japan is that students switch to Japanese during a task, especially when they want to say something that is important to them. While it is good to see that students are so motivated in a task that they really do wish to communicate, it would be even better if they were equally motivated to say that same thing in L2 (English). After all, while we always want our students to be motivated, the purpose of an EFL class is generally to learn and practice English, and not to use L1 (Japanese) to have interesting conversations. One interesting approach to responding to this issue that we have considered recently is to apply Robert Dilts’ model of Logical Levels. In this model, any behaviour can be viewed at six levels. These are shown below with questions which are useful for thinking at each of the logical levels.

  1. Environment    Where and when is the behaviour taking place?
  2. Behaviour    What specifically is happening in this behaviour?
  3. Capability    What other behaviours are possible?
  4. Beliefs and Values    What does the person believe that supports this behaviour? What is important to the person that supports this behaviour?
  5. Identity    Who is the person when they are carrying out the behaviour?
  6. Spirit    What bigger systems is the person part of and contributing to?

Change can be achieved at any of these levels. Below, we give some simple examples of how this particular behaviour could be changed. Although we have simply sketched out some possibilities for each level, you may find yourself considering many more possibilities. It is especially useful to remember that you can think about each of the levels by thinking about how it is relevant to the Teacher or to the Student. For example, at the level of beliefs and values, what beliefs and values does the studenthave that causes them to switch into Japanese? And what beliefs and values does the teacher have that permits/facilitates this behaviour?


  • Move students to a new location in the classroom.
  • Have students work with a new partner.
  • Use L2 background music, a change in lighting, open windows, a rearrangement of desks, or something else to create an ‘English environment’. Reinforce to students that only English should be used at these times.
  • Put interesting L2 peripheral stimuli in the room – posters of L2 speaking countries, books, art etc. Let these be an indirect influence.
  • Take students out of the classroom and get them speaking L2 in another area of the university. On a sunny day it can be pleasant to be outside speaking with a partner. This subtly suggests to students that the L2 exists outside the classroom and it is ok to use it outside the classroom.


  • Consider closely what is happening in this behaviour. What are the triggers that cause students to change into L1? Can these triggers be changed?
  • Consider Teacher behaviour. Does the teacher speak Japanese? If so, when? And what percentage of the time? Find ways to stay in L2. Use easy to understand L2.
  • For the sake of student confidence, correct minimally and respectfully.
  • When introducing new vocabulary explain in L2 and put in a context that students will understand e.g. if the new word is sneakers point to a students wearing sneakers and ask is she wearing sneakers now? It’s very likely one or more students in the room will know the answer and be able to respond. Use simple yes or no questions to activate learning and understanding of new vocab.


People are always capable of doing alternative behaviours and you can also teach students strategies to extend their capabilities so that they can respond in a different way than switching to L1.

  • Teach circumlocution techniques such as “How do I say …”
  • Teach techniques for gaining time such as: “Just a moment”
  • Encourage students to call on you for assistance if they have difficulty saying something.
  • Show students that they are a resource for each other by putting them in pairs and having them practice questions like “How do I say [Japanese phrase] in English?”

Beliefs and Values

Consider ways that you can help students to install beliefs and values that will support their language learning. Also, critically examine your own beliefs and values as a teacher to consider how your expectations are shaping the actual performance of the students. It is probable that your students believe things such as: “It is unnatural for Japanese to speak English to each other.” You can begin to identify these limiting beliefs and to challenge them. Often the best way to challenge them is to use a metaphor. Or alternatively, you can use an older student as a role-model. If you can get a video of the older student talking about how he/she learned English, the younger students can unconsciously model the beliefs and values of this successful English user. Some beliefs that can support students staying in L2 include:

  • “I always talk to my friends in Japanese and when I talk to them in English, I can learn even more about them.”
  • “This English class is a wonderful opportunity to practice speaking English.”
  • “It’s ok to make mistakes because that allows me to learn more.”


At this level, we ask the question, “Who is the student” or “What role is the student playing during this activity?”.

  • Role plays: e.g. Imagine that you are a German and your partner is Italian. You need to use English as a common language. Use regalia (props) to create a fantasy based on a new identity for the students.
  • In depth students can generate a whole new character for themselves imagining they are a person from the L2 country. They can have a new name, job family, hobbies, age etc and you can have a cocktail party for them to relax and enjoy in their new identity. On any level creating a new character will help penetrate the barriers of social conditioning.
  • Limiting “English Time” to a specified length of time and “pretending to be a foreigner.” You can also consider your own identity within the teaching context. As a teacher, who are you? What is your role?


  • You can ask the students, either directly or through metaphor questions like “What is bigger that you, that you are part of, and that you contribute to?” Japan is a group-oriented society and people are very aware of the needs of the whole group. With careful framing, you can use this to encourage the students to stay in L2.
  • You could say something like, “So we have created a lovely learning community here. And it is up to each one of you to play your part in this community. When you switch into Japanese, your partner and the other students are losing out, so it is good to stay in English and both you and everyone else can really improve.”
  • You could remind students that English will be part of their future and all the opportunities that it will open up.
  • If students focus on their Japanese identity so much that they are unwilling to speak English, you can utilize this by suggestion that “English will give you an opportunity to tell people all around the world how wonderful Japan is.”

Have fun thinking about and exploring the logical levels as your students improve their English. The ideas that we present here are very much a work in progress and we welcome all comments and feedback in order to take these ideas to a higher level.

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I was working with my students today to help them develop better presentations and came up with the PRESENT model which incorporates a lot of important NLP ideas and presentation tips in an easy-to-remember mnemonic. Below, I have given a simple initial description of this model. Later, I hope to develop it in more detail and to use it as the basis for helping students and other people to make more effective presentations.
Perceptual Positions
As you practice and carry out the presentation, think of it as you see the audience and room out of your own eyes (first position). Also, think of how your audience perceives you (second position). Finally, imagine that you are standing at the side of the room watching both yourself and the audience (third position). Notice what you learn from each position that can help you to make a better presentation.
Rapport with the audience
Create strong rapport with your audience right from the beginning. Creating rapport with a group can be done in several ways. You could mingle with the group members and do an activity with the group in which you are taking part as a participant. Or if this is not feasible, try to identify the rapport leaders in each section of the audience and mirror/match their behaviour. All groups have natural rapport leaders that other people unconsciously follow. If you can create rapport with these rapport leaders, then the whole audience will come into rapport with you. You can test whether you have created solid rapport by trying to lead the audience in some way. For some example, when you nod your head, do they all nod along with you?
Express in VAK
This is the biggest item in the list. Of course, the words that you use should appeal to people in the audience no matter what their representational system is. So, you can use visual language such as ‘picture’, auditory language such as ‘listen’, and kinesthetic language such as ‘feel’.
You should also consider all representational systems in the non-verbal behaviours of your presentation. For visual, be sure that you are suitably dressed and that you are using clear pictures or graphs or similar. For auditory, talk in a clear loud voice at an appropriate speed. Vary your voice to match and enhance the content of your talk. For Kinesthetic, use gestures to organize the space around your body in ways that match your content. For example, you could anchor concept 1 on your left hand and anchor concept 2 on your right hand. You can also set up spatial anchors in the room to anchor states such as curiosity, agreement, etc.
You may also like to use the charisma pattern (starting in K, moving to A, and then moving to V) which will ensure that you reach all of the audience effectively.
Stories are a great way to liven up a presentation. People are interested in your personal stories and it can be a great way to get their attention right from the beginning. You can use metaphors to support or exemplify the content of your presentation or to induce appropriate states in the audience. You can also use split stories (embedded metaphors) to embed your content within a story or to create a trance state in the listeners if that is appropriate.
Eyes Up
As you walk onto the stage, the audience is already watching you. Be sure that you have your eyes up and are watching the audience from the moment they can see you. Then walk confidently out onto the stage, take a pause, look around at the audience, ensure you have their attention, and only then say your initial greeting. Unless you are specifically trying to get another effect by using your eyes, keeping your eyes up throughout the presentation can be the most effective.
Too many presenters read from a script or even from their own slides on the screen. Make sure that you have made simple notes that you can speak from to reproduce your presentation. Practice with these notes until your presentation is perfect. This will make your presentation far more natural and spontaneous, and you will also feel much more confident.

‎Your notes don’t have to actually be ‘notes’ in the traditional sense. While keywords or a list of phrases might be most appropriate for one presenter, another presenter ‘notes’ could also perhaps mean physical anchors used as memory aides or perhaps visual anchors in the form of pictures, graphs, a mindmap, and so on. One advantage of visual notes is that a lot of complex information or relationships or large amounts of information can be shown more concisely than using words. Try different kinds of notes to learn what is best for you.

Make sure that your presentation fits into the allotted time period by practicing with a stopwatch or timer in advance. If there is a questions and answers section after your presentation, be sure to have included that in your timing.


This is just a brief introduction to the PRESENT model. Feedback is welcome! And here it is again:
Perceptual Positions
Express in VAK
Eyes Up

©Copyright by Dr. Brian Cullen 2011

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Identifying and Transferring Extra-Curricular Skills to Language Learning

On October 29, I will be doing a presentation at Nanzan University, Nagoya, Japan which examines some of our recent research into the potential of NLP for education, in particularly language learning. The title of the presentation is: Identifying and Transferring Extra-Curricular Skills to Language Learning, and as can be identified from the title it draws on NLP ideas of modelling. The theme of the conference is “Realizing Autonomy” for language learners, and strategy development and NLP modelling are clearly powerful resources for understanding areas and helping learners to reach their full potential. You can download the handout for the presentation which draws on many of our learnings from presenting the same research at a conference earlier in the year. The handout is quite extensive (7 pages) as there will probably not be enough time within the presentation to explain the data completely and it is nice to allow the participants to read it later.

Blog Reviews

Review: Dynamic Learning

Dynamic Learning
by Robert B. Dilts & Todd A. Epstein
Dynamic Learning CoverBecause I have been a teacher for almost 20 years, Dynamic Learning is an NLP book that I have been meaning to read for a long time. Such a great title! That’s exactly what every teacher wants to see in their own classroom – dynamic learning happening as the students are engaged and learning content and strategies that will enrich their lives. Like many NLP books, Dynamic Learning is the transcript of a seminar and while this does add a certain sense that the reader can experience the ‘feeling’ of the seminar, this is one book that I felt could have done with a lot of editing. In some sections, the demonstrations seem to go on far longer than useful and they were clearly more useful in the shared physical space than they appear on the written page.
The blurb on the back of the book says that “The authors describe a multitude of ways to make learning fun, easy, and effective.”  That’s a big goal and while the authors have provided some extremely useful advice in some areas, the book would have benefited from some more background information and statistical support as well as cutting down of the long demonstration transcripts.
Chapter 1 (The Fundamentals of Dynamic Learning) is essentially a short summary of NLP from the authors’ perspective including Dilts’ neurological levels model, a good introduction to strategies, and a kinesthetic approach to creating good learning states in the classroom through posture, gestures, and eye movements. For people already familiar with NLP, it seems brief, but undoubtedly it will be not enough for people who are not familiar with NLP, highlighting one of the difficulties of targeting an NLP-based book at a more generally area such as education.
Chapter 2 (Remembering Names) and Chapter 3 (Memory Strategies) offer some useful strategies, but they could have been greatly reduced in length. On the other hand, the long elicitation of these strategies given in the transcripts of the demonstrations may be interesting to NLP modellers or even teachers who are interested in modelling other skills important in learning. Chapter 4 explores how people can improve their senses (Visual, auditory, and kinesthetic) through simple exercises and also briefly examines submodalities.
Chapter 5 provides one of the better ideas in this book. It details how effective strategies can be transferred between two people. For example, two teachers or two students may have different strategies for achieving a task. By eliciting and sharing the goals of each person, and looking at their evidence procedures and operations, it potentially becomes possible to learn a strategy from a more effective learner. Combined with the sensory distinctions of NLP, this simple idea is very powerful.
Chapter 6 is an overly long account of the spelling strategy. The long transcriptions which bring the chapter to 57 pages (!) would have been better presented in the form of standard prose. Perhaps the core question that I kept asking myself is whether this book is about modelling or about the sharing of the results of modelling. From the point of view of the teacher who wants to use the spelling strategy, all the detail is unnecessary. For the dedicated NLP modeller, it certainly provides insight, but still seems far overpresented. The book seems to wander between modelling (which can be seen to be the core of NLP) and presenting useful things for teachers (the trail of techniques which results from this modelling).
As a language teacher and language learner, I was particularly interested in Chapter 7 (Learning Language). It introduces the NLP idea of second position modelling, stepping into the shoes of an expert speaker of the language and beginning to take on their gestures, beliefs and eventually language. In my own classrooms in Japan, this is something that would be very beneficial to students since their own highly-defined (if unconscious) Japanese identity is so strong that it tends to stop students from modelling non-Japanese. I found the rest of the chapter to be less useful. The obstacle course and other activities can be viewed as a repackaging of the classic TPR (total physical response) methodology introduced by Asher in the 1970s. The activities are useful, but this chapter adds little new to language teaching.
Chapter 8 provides some useful tips for increasing reading speed including the use of peripheral vision and the reduction of subvocalization.
Chapter 9 (Creative Writing) was my favourite in the book, and it provides some excellent ideas for using connectives (e.g. because, therefore, after, while …) as prompts for writing. On page 308, the authors do something that I always see as one of Robert Dilts’ great strengths – they combine several tools to create a more powerful tool or model. In the table below, they combine connectives with perceptual positions, representational systems and time frames to create a series of prompts that will help any stalled creative writer, or even an already active writer!

Connective Perspective Representational System & Time Frame
because I see – saw – will see that
therefore we hear – heard- will hear like
after you feel – felt – will feel how
so that They touch – touched – will touch as if

Chapter 10 offers some useful tips on assessment and how to deal with ‘resistance to learning’. The book also has some appendices which offer worksheets and some more background on Dilts’ neurological levels model and how it relates to Batesons’ levels of learning. This latter material could probably have been usefully presented at the beginning of the book to frame the authors’ important underlying idea that the most important thing is to learn is ‘how to learn’. When students can learn to learn and to take control of that learning, that is when we could truly get Dynamic Learning. While this book has some good ideas, there may be too much unessential material and too little signalling for the average busy teacher to get much out of it, and someday I would like to see a new Robert Dilts book where he refines the ideas of this book for an audience of teachers who could really use it to create dynamic learning in their classrooms and beyond.

Blog Reviews

Review: From Coach to Awakener

From Coach to Awakener
by Robert Dilts

In this book, Robert Dilts uses his model of Neurological Levels as a comprehensive base for advice and exercises for personal and business coaches. The book is structured around this model, so I have shown a brief outline in the table below.

Chapter Title Neurological Level
 1  Caretaking and Guiding  Environment
 2  Coaching  Behaviours
 3  Teaching  Capabilities
 4  Mentoring  Beliefs and Values
 5  Sponsorship  Identity
 6  Awakening  Spirit