Want to be a better teacher? Join Toastmasters

Matt | Teach English in China,Toastmasters | Wednesday, August 27th, 2008

Do you want to be a better teacher?  Join Toastmasters.

Do you want to be a better student?  Join Toastmasters.

Do you want to be a better leader/manager/all-around person?  Join … well… you know.

I’m not sure if you can tell, but I’m a big fan of Toastmasters. Actually, it’s the main reason I’m teaching English here in China.  And now that I’ve found a club in China (there are many by the way) I’m quite happy about it again.  The reason I say Toastmasters can help you is that it’s a Communication and Leadership program. So anytime you need to communicate and/or lead this program can help.

How can Toastmasters help me become a better teacher?

Toastmasters helped me become a better teacher in many ways.

First, it helped me get comfortable standing in front of a group of people speaking.  A few years back I was deathly afraid of public speaking.  Joining Toastmasters helped me overcome and tame this fear.

Toastmasters also helped me get to China.  I was able to network and meet new people, “a friend of a friend, knew a recruiter in China, who was living in Toronto and who needed teachers”  and I landed my first teaching job in China.  So, Toastmasters is a good way to network and to meet such interesting people from different backgrounds.

But specifically, how can Toastmasters help me in the classroom?


In preparing speeches, or planning and organizing a TM meeting, one of the first steps is to decide on your objective.  Do you want to inform, entertain, persuade or inspire?  What’s the objective sentence of your speech?  This step, usually, is what makes the difference between a good speech and a bad speech.  Funny enough, having an objective is also what makes the difference between a good class and a bad class. When I look back on my bad classes, or English corners, I realized that usually the big reason was that I didn’t have a focused objective to the class

Giving Feedback

Through Toastmasters, I’ve learned and continue to learn better ways to give feedback.  I used to not give any or I would simply give very positive comments to keep up my students’ confidence.  But through Toastmasters I’ve learned that giving feedback, giving constructive comments, is how we can learn. It’s only through knowing these weak points and strong points can we do something about them; only by knowing our mistakes can we learn and improve them.  So now as a teacher I can give better feedback.

I’ve also learned that people don’t always like hearing all their faults, especially if you are like me and have a few (ahem ok more than a few).  Again, Toastmasters has helped me learn how to give feedback with the hope that the person listening will actually listen to what I say, take my advice and act on it.  The approach is called a sandwich approach: give some positive praise; give the negative feedback with specific details on how to improve; then end with a positive comment.  Again the more specific the better.


At Toastmasters we give a lot of evaluations, pretty much every kind you can think of: verbal: written; speech evaluations; meeting evaluations; grammar and word usage evaluations; clear speech evaluations (“Ahs, Uhms, nei ges”); time usage evaluations.  I’m learning that to be a good evaluator the first step is to be a good listener and to be able to focus your listening, usually, by listening through your eye contact and engaged body language.  I’ve also learned a technique called WCILFH. I often write this at the top of my page if I sense my interest leaving the speaker, which stands for

What Can I Learn From Him/Her?

As Confucius and Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, we can learn from everyone, and so in that everyone is my teacher. These evaluation and listening skills have helped translate into better evaluations by me to my students.

I still have lots of room to learn and to grow, but I’m quite sure that my teaching skills have improved dramatically because of Toastmasters.  I can honestly say I wouldn’t be here teaching in China without Toastmasters.
Thank you Toastmasters.

Want to improve your English? Join Toastmasters!

Matt | Toastmasters,Working in China | Wednesday, February 20th, 2008

In China, most students complain that they don’t have enough opportunities to speak English. For the most part, I agree. Most students I’ve met are looking for more the chance to speak English and get some feedback. Toastmasters, the Communication and Leadership Club, provides this opportunity – to speak English – and much, much more.

In a normal Toastmasters meeting there are many different roles taken on by the members – from impromptu talks to prepared speeches – all with the purpose to help us improve our communication skills. Giving prepared speeches is a main part of the program. This is probably why most Chinese join a Toastmasters club. While speaking in English is a good way for anyone to improve their spoken English, Toastmasters offers so much more. Here is a typical meeting with all the roles and how a person can improve their English communication skills by taking part.

Toastmaster/Chairperson – runs the meeting. This person has to control and plan the entire meeting. A person can develop their leadership and meeting management skills by taking on this role. Also, this person has to introduce all the other roles. Giving a great introduction takes practice and doing it 10 plus times in a meeting takes a lot of practice.

Table Topics Master – this person runs the impromptu speaking session. Here you can develop your creative skills by bringing interesting ways for members to give their impromptu talks (E.g. read a piece of paper and make a speech or have a debate and give your opinion).

Table Topics Speaker – giving an impromptu talk for 1 to 2 minutes. In my opinion this is great practice for speakers of other languages as it forces you to think quickly and still speak clearly in English within a short 2 minute time limit. You have to organize a mini speech with no preparation time. Also, you don’t have time to think in Chinese or to translate into English. It forces speakers to get their message across clearly within the allotted time. I’ve found that Chinese speakers, generally, have no fear of public speaking. For me it’s the opposite. In fact most will be able to stand for 2 minutes and talk about nothing, regardless if it makes sense or not, just to use up their time. This is probably because these speaking opportunities are so rare and that in school they often had to stand up to give an answer to their teacher. I think this is one of the best ways Chinese speakers can improve their spoken English.

Table Topics Evaluator – this person listens to all the speakers and gives feedback. English skills developed are effective listening and evaluation skills. Similar to the TT speakers, this person has to listen quickly to 6-8 speakers and pick out some feedback gems to give to the speakers. They also have to be able to think quickly on how to create a good evaluation.

General Evaluator – evaluates the entire club. A person taking on this role can also improve their active listening and evaluation skills. Being able to give positive and effective evaluations is skill needed in China and the world over.

Speech Evaluators – evaluates the speeches. This person has to read the speakers speech manual beforehand to understand the speech objective. Then he’ll listen actively in order to be able to give effective and constructive evaluation. Finally, they’ll give their mini speech evaluation in such a way, (Hamburger approach +/-/+), that the speaker will enjoy hearing it and make the recommended changes. Listening, speaking and evaluating skills developed with this role.

Timer – this person times all the key sessions and helps keep the meeting on track. By taking on this role, you can better understand the importance of timing. Also, when you give the Timer’s Report you can practice reading times aloud that each member used. Reading times used for over 20 members in second language isn’t easy. Try it in Chinese or French.

Ah Counter – this person listens for all the “crutch” words people use, like”Ah, Uhm, nei ge, you know…” Taking on this role you can improve your active listening skills. In learning a second language they say listening and speaking are connected. The better we listen the better we can speak. I agree with this.

Wordsmith/Grammarian – this person introduces a new word to be used during the meeting and listens for how good our grammar was. Listening for our proper use of grammar, means that you first must know the right grammar and can hear us when we make mistakes. By teaching us a new word each meeting, means that you first must learn the word. They say if you really want to learn something try to teach it. So, your vocabulary will grow by helping teach us a new word. Also, you’ll listen to how well we used this word during the meeting and improve your listening too.

Quotemaster – this person brings a new quote to the club each week. They read us an inspiring quote once or twice and explain why it is meaningful to the reader. The speaker can develop their ability to read aloud. You’d think it’s an easy thing to do, but try and read off a piece of paper, while standing and in front of a group of strangers and make it clear, effective and with good eye contact. It’s tougher than you think.

Quizmaster – this person listens to everything that was spoken and makes a 2 minute quiz testing our listening skills. This person has to be able to actively listen during the meeting. Then she’ll make 5-6 simple questions and test us which can developing her, and our, listening skills.

So if you want to improve your language skills, leadership skills and life come out to Toastmasters. I love it. And it has changed my life. It helped bring me to China.

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