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Nonverbal communication (body language, paralinguistics) covers a huge area, primarily the realm those
interested in effective business presentations and interpersonal relationships rather than English language
teachers, though the use of gestures and mimicry have crept into ELT research via neuro-linguistic programming.
The importance of nonverbal communication as an accompaniment to spoken language, however, cannot be
underestimated, given that up to ninety percent of communication takes place through voice tone, sounds and a
variety of devices such as kinetics (movement), haptics (touch), oculesics (eye-contact), proxemics (space) and
chronomics (time) as well as posture, locomotion and even silence. Misinterpretation of body language can be a
cause of intercultural misunderstanding, while a lack of it may be as much the cause of ͚unnatural͛ communication
as ignorance of the phonological features of the language. Despite this, nonverbal communication is rarely taught
alongside the speaking skill and very few classroom activities have been developed to practise it. Similarly, it is not
widely recognized that expressions, gestures and other devices have form, function and meaning which vary from
culture to culture and may be learned in a similar way to, and in conjunction with, structural and functional

Introduced in the right way, both for receptive and productive purposes, aspects of nonverbal communication can
add an extra dimension to language learning and be immense fun to practice in the language classroom.

Activities to practice nonverbal communication may be categorized in a number of ways, each categorisation
having implications as to how the activities might be integrated into a syllabus:

j Activities which practise a function such as agreement, indifference or deception.

j Activities which practice a pure nonverbal aspect such as locomotion.
j NLP-type activities such as mirroring body language.
j Activities which combine speech with aspects of nonverbal communication such as facial expression and
j Activities which combine structural or functional language with appropriate nonverbal reinforcement.

In terms of integrating nonverbal communication into a standard multi-layered syllabus, the last two of the above
are probably the most manageable and acceptable to both teachers and learners, though these may also
incorporate elements of the other activity types, particularly since verbal and nonverbal devices are often
complementary in adding aspect to function. The following are examples of activities designed either to reinforce
structural or functional language (guided practice) or to accompany fluency-based language tasks (less guided



It has been suggested that people who are lying are more likely to use a gesture such as pulling their ear. Students
work in groups of three. One makes a statement about himself which may or may not be true. The second reports
it to the third, who writes it down. The student making the original statement should pull his ear when making
statements that are not true. The second student conveys to the third student (who should not hear/see the
original statement being made) that he believes the statement to be true or not by emphasising or not
emphasising the reporting verb. This emphasizing, and using ͚doubting͛ intonation, has the effect of showing


Student A (to B) |    

   (No gesture)

Students B (to C) 


Student C writes 


Student A (to B) |      (pulls ear)

Students B (to C)  O  

Student C writes 


In threes, students take the following roles: Porter, Manager, VIP guest. The table shows requests and
accompanying gestures. Practise the statements gestures. In groups of three, give each student a role. They then
practise moving each other around the class.

To Porter To Hotel Manager To VIP guest

Porter says  |      | 


(back hand gesture) (Back hand pointing
gesture and flourish,
slight bow)
Hotel manager says      !       
(direct finger pointing)     

   (Back hand
VIP Guest says "  
(Beckoning) (wave towards self)


Give an example of a pep talk, e.g. by a coach to a football team.

   V    OO 





Punch your fist into your other hand on every main verb to show that you mean it! Then ask students what you
want them to do. (Now, what are you going to do?͛) Get them to remember as much as possible, repeating the
punch on the verbs. Put students in groups to write other pep talks e.g. a teacher to students before an exam,
officer to soldiers before battle, manager to sales team before going out to sell, head surgeon to doctors going into
a difficult operation, inspector to police dealing with a dangerous gang, etc. Put students into different groups and
let them give each other their pep talks.



This is a drill to practise past tense questions, statements and past continuous. The shoulder shrug is associated
with not knowing, not having a reason, and the word ͚just͛. In pairs, students ask and answer:

A: ‰   


B: |  % &  ' | 


A: ‰   


B: |  % &  ' | 



A: ‰    


B: |  % &  ' | 


Continue with other verbs: play, eat, go to, read, drink, buy, say, phone, insult, kick, etc.


In small groups, one student is appointed as the dominant one. Other students have to copy his body language and
agree with everything he says, however ridiculous it may be, for example:

S 1  %  

S 2,3,4 
    %   |

S1 |

S 2,3,4 $   

  $  ) 

Let students take turns in being the dominant one.




Tell the class they are sages/philosophers. They should formulate deep questions such as:


  * #




Put the students in groups of four. One starts with a question e.g. ͚| 
   ?͛ and a gesture, e.g. chin
stroking. They pass the question around the group with the gesture. Once the sentence has been round the group
once, a different sage can pose a different question with a different gesture, e.g. chin resting on a fist, which goes
round again. The group members should keep trying to find new questions and new appropriate body language,
which could include: pacing up and down, finger on chin, scratching heads, looking up, and closing eyes.


Write up a variety of subjects to talk about, elicit these from the class e.g. football, cars, cooking, animals. Half the
class remains sitting, the others move from student to student, every minute, having conversations. The sitting
students should show their attitude to the subject under discussion (chosen by the standing student) by using
open or closed postures (crossed arms and legs, no smile or eye contact is ͚closed͛ body language.) It is the job of
the standing students to keep their partners entertained with interesting conversation and they should make notes
about each person͛s interests after their conversations. At the end have a feed back session in which the standing
students say who is interested in which subjects.

!   "


In groups, everyone gets a turn to speak for one minute on a subject. The idea is to speak for one minute without
stopping. The other students fill breaks in speaking with drumming on the desk with fingers. Drumming shows
impatience, so it should encourage the speaker not to stop, and it also shows the speaker how annoying it is.


In groups of three, one student talks about himself in an exaggerated way. The second student listens and the third
student must try to pass on non-verbal messages suggesting that the things said are not true, true but exaggerated
or completely true. The third is a non-speaking student who tries to give his impression of what the speaker is
really like by clearing his throat, to draw attention to minor exaggerations and coughing (where the exaggeration is
greater), and nodding, smiling where true. This works well in groups of three where two students know each other
well, but the third does not, perhaps a new student in the class.

"  $


Explain that two people in the room each have a different nervous habit, e.g. pulling their ear or scratching their
head, as they speak. Students mingle and talk to each other, changing partners every minute. People with no
nervous habit adopt the nervous habit of the person they have just been speaking to. If two speakers both have
different nervous habits, the person who speaks first passes his nervous habit on to the second speaker in each
pair. After 5 to 10 minutes, stop the activity and see which nervous habit has been acquired by most people.


Each student is given a picture of a person. They sit for three minutes making appropriate noises and gestures as if
listening to that person talking about themselves, and then they introduce their new ͚friend͛ to the class. The three
minutes should be spent making appropriate noises (Really? I see) and gestures (nodding, smiling, open posture),
while thinking how they will introduce the person, describe his family, work, and interests.

The use of gestures, facial expressions, posture and other devices varies widely from culture to culture. Some
aspects of nonverbal communication, therefore, have to be taught, often in the same way as spoken language.
Constant use of video/DVD is probably the best way of providing context, but is time consuming and sometimes
impractical. Consequently the teacher is his/her own best resource for presenting and modeling. Nonverbal
devices are best presented, and, of course, drilled, along with their accompanying spoken language, but may also
be practiced in isolation. These stages should not be forgotten before moving on to activities such as those above.


Facial expressions, posture, tone, inflection and other nuances of body language and speech may comprise more
than 90 percent of communication, according to research reported in The Forensic Examiner. That means the
words we choose make up less than 10 percent of our intended meaning any time we communicate. Nonverbal
communication activities can help us learn to direct the power of these nonverbal cues--and to say more
effectively what we really mean.

'  ( "

1. Direct participants to stand in a circle with one person in the middle. No one is allowed to talk. The person
in the middle wants to take the place of a person in the circle. People in the circle want to exchange
places without becoming usurped by the person in the middle. To accomplish this, participants need to
use eye contact and other nonverbal cues to communicate and negotiate a move.


2. This activity challenges a group to say the letters of the alphabet in order without ever having two
participants saying the same letter at the same time. Any sequence can be used; you may choose months,
numbers or holidays instead.


3. Direct participants to stand in a circle. Ask each person to silently choose a leader. They are not to tell
anyone who their leader is. Explain that each person will mimic the moves or changes in position of her
leader. Before beginning, ask each person to close her eyes and assume a pose. Eyes should open on the
director's command, and position should not be changed except to follow one's leader. In the end,
everyone will be in the same position.


4. Start this activity by placing a rope on the ground. Ask the group to select a listener. Bring that person
forward 20 feet and blindfold him. He is not allowed to speak for the remainder of the game, and he
cannot move unless directed to do so. Ask the group to select a communicator. Bring that person forward
10 feet and turn her so she faces the group, which should be standing on the starting line. The
communicator may not turn around to look at the listener. She is the only person in the group allowed to
speak. Give the group a set of instructions involving the use of props. For example: "Direct the listener to
put the scarf on his head, the glove on his hand and take off his shoe." The group must communicate
these instructions to the communicator without speaking, so the communicator can tell the blindfolded
listener what to do.
!  ) 

5. Follow-up discussion is important for these games to be effective. Some discussion questions will be
specific to the activity: How did it feel to be the one in the middle of the circle (Jedi Mind Trick). Other
discussion questions are more general: What nonverbal cues did you use to accomplish the task? How do
nonverbal cues affect group dynamics and leadership? How can you use this information to communicate
more effectively? An experienced team building consultant can help you get the most out of these games.


Mix up a ͞follow the leader͟ game by changing leaders frequently, suggests the website
Choose the first leader, then let her initiate actions which the rest of the group must follow. However, she may
designate the next leader, by eye contact or gesture. Changing leaders democratizes the game and also
encourages players to observe an array of different leadership styles.


Within a group of people, entangle your limbs, then try to unravel them, suggests Winona State University. If the
group size warrants, divide the group into two smaller teams. Have each group sit in a tight circle, whereby they
can extend their arms and grab hold of a person not directly seated beside them. You can become tangled at any
speed that feels appropriate, but detangle carefully, to prevent injury. Refrain from speaking during the entire
process, encouraging players to use gesture.


Dramatize a text using just your hands, face and body gestures, recommends the website
For dialogues or conversations requiring multiple characters, let students work together to try to embody and
convey the text. You should encourage observers to guess the content and context before using words to discuss
the challenges the group faced and their specific intent.

^ !

Divide the group into teams and challenge them to collaborate on drawings based on a specific idea or theme,
recommends the website Keep a firm five-second time limit and cue each person to contribute
to the drawing, then pass it on. Make sure all individuals contribute to the picture, then create a second image,
changing the order of the contributors. Alternatively, you should request that teams exchange unfinished pictures
or swap artists mid-way through the process.