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  • November 20, 2015

Learning to teach from a seven-year-old

Last weekend my best friend’s gregarious seven-year-old (we’ll call her Ellie) took over our lunch date to ask if she could teach me to play the board game Sorry!. Ellie has known, since she was four, that she wants to be a teacher. Decorative Illustration She wakes up early to play school, goes to school, then comes home and promptly starts playing school with her 2-year-old twin sisters. SHE LOVES SCHOOL. But really, she loves teaching.

The experience of Ellie teaching me how to play Sorry! was downright incredible. There is no doubt that she has honed the craft of teaching through constant play. I watched, astounded as she employed an approach to teaching that very few adults have mastered.

What did she do that was so beyond her seven years? Why was it so striking to me?

In recent months I have taught clients and adult professionals topics ranging from “Digital Project Management” (a 101 class offered by the local GirlDevelopIt chapter) to “how to manage your content in the Craft CMS” and I’ve been zeroing in on the base-level tenets of teaching that make these lessons successful for me and my students.

I watched, jaw dropped, as Ellie followed – to the letter – the following steps that I’ve only recently begun mastering:

1. Before you start, understand your client. Be prepared.

Ellie asked me if I like board games, had I ever played Sorry!, or if I had ever heard of it. She immediately understood the depth of direction I needed.

2. Put your client at ease and cultivate their interest.

When I told her I’d heard of it but had never played, she said, “Oh, well you’re going to love this. It’s pretty easy…but FUN! Aren’t the game pieces super cool!?”

3. Gather your thoughts. Take the time to path it out.

After getting confirmation from me that the game did indeed seem fabulous at first glance, Ellie paused. She put her hands authoritatively on the board, arranged several piles of cards, straightened out the pieces, then took a deep breath. “Ok, Abby. Let’s get started.”

4. Don’t just give your client facts. Layer in context, wisdom, advice, and stories.

Ellie guided me through how turns worked, each of the numeric cards you might pull, and what that meant for you as a player at particular points in the game.

She then talked me through the shortcuts and traps on the board. Not only did she give me the bare bones facts, she told stories as examples about times she had been happy she’d landed on a square that meant you could advance, or disappointed when she’d had to wait extra turns. “Abby, seriously think about it, three’s can be SOOO good if you’re HERE on the board and you need to get here.” Seriously.

5. Confirm that your client understands what you’ve taught them and feels confident to move forward on their own.

Throughout the lesson, I was given several opportunities to ask questions, and confirm that I was ready for more. At the end of the lesson, she put down the cards, clapped her hands together, smiled at me encouragingly and said, “Ok, are we ready to get started?!?”

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