Body Language in the EFL Classroom

Using Gestures, Modeling and Cueing

Giving directions on just how to do an English as a Foreign Language (EFL) class activity can sometimes be more challenging than the target language in that activity. Your students are still learning and they may not understand the words or structures you are using to tell them what to do.

So how can you communicate directions to your students painlessly?  By using body language—specifically modeling, gestures and cueing.

Good EFL teachers can use their hands and facial expressions to communicate ideas that students can not yet express in English. Show your students what you want them to do by miming or acting out your own request. This is called ‘modeling.’  Or, use specific hand gestures to prompt behavior or more pared-down movements to cue the students to action.  All of these help the student understand your meaning without understanding every word you say.

The point of your English lesson is to teach them the target language of that day’s lesson plan. You don’t want to bog them down in a sea of incomprehensible directions with no clue how to do the next activity.

Teachers should always model the activity before asking students to engage in it; gesture with their hands to indicate when they want students to answer in chorus, listen or repeat (i.e. put your hands by your ears for ‘listen,’ draw your hand away from your mouth for ‘repeat’); and cue students by pointing to words on the marker board or places in the textbook.

However, this “talking” with your hands can be overdone. Only gesture and cue as much as needed. If you overdo it, students may become confused. Pay close attention to how the students are responding and use more or less body language accordingly.

Modeling, gesturing and cueing are all tools in the EFL teacher’s toolbox. They will help make your class run efficiently and effectively. One thing to remember, though, is that different cultures have different ‘rules’ regarding some hand movements. For example, in some cultures it’s insulting if you use just one finger to point, while in others it’s rude to gesture with your palm up.

However, these cultural quirks can be fun to learn, and if you approach each new culture you encounter with sensitivity your students will be glad to help you catch on to the polite way to do things.

TED’s Tips™ #1: If a student doesn’t know how to answer a question you’ve just asked and the correct response is already written up on the marker board, use the subtle cue of placing your hand on the board near the answer to draw attention to it. This isn’t cheating—you’re not giving them the answer, only helping them notice it.

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