The Internet TESL Journal

The Importance of Eye Contact in the Classroom

Robert Ledbury, Ian White and Steve Darn
steve.darn [at]
Izmir University of Economics (Izmir, Turkey)

Teachers often complain about discipline, about lack of attention, about the use of L2 in the classroom and many other problems, many of which amount to a breakdown in communication between teacher and students or between students themselves. It is well known that speech is only one part of communication, yet teachers often forget about or underestimate the importance of non-verbal communication in their own and their students' performance. One aspect of non-verbal communication is the use of the eyes to convey messages. The eyes are a powerful tool for both the teacher and the learner, yet much classroom time is spent with eyes firmly fixed on the book, the board, the floor, the window, or roaming randomly around the teaching and learning environment.

Teachers working in all disciplines in secondary schools have always been advised to develop 'the look' as part of their teaching persona. 'The look' ranges from 'be quiet please', through 'I'm not going to tell you again' to 'don't mess with me, sonny', and in this respect is seen as having a disciplinary function. Meanwhile, the business world has accepted eye contact as an important component of achieving success in giving presentations and improving rapport between representative and client, while these days it is possible to find many websites offering advice on how to forge personal relationships through the judicious use of eye contact. Researchers and practitioners in Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) have brought the notion of body language and eye contact back to the attention of language teachers, but largely in the context of providing clues to the nature of the learner rather than in terms of a teaching tool. We have recently had the pleasure of observing English language classes at the Izmir University of Economics, and have seen a lot of pairs of eyes performing a lot of functions.

Here are some of the things that we have been reminded of or learnt anew:

Much of the above is likely to seem transparently obvious, only natural, and an aspect of human behaviour either innate or developed over time. But watch yourself, watch your colleagues, and watch your learners!


The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. X, No. 8, August 2004