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Body Language: Techniques for Beginner ESL Students

By Audrey Alleyne

Body language or non-verbal communication is very important in any interaction with others. Use a body language lesson for ESL students, instead of long explanations.

Example of A Lesson on Adjectives

Your facial expressions, your hand, arm and leg gestures can all help your students to understand what you are trying to explain. Beginner students find this very helpful. For example, you are giving an ESL lesson on adjectives and comparison, and you want to explain the difference in using the words tall, long and short. Your students or some of your students are just not getting the gist of it. Simply call two students of different heights to the front of the class; a tall one and a short one, and using gestures, point to the tall one and say” tall” - “He (She) is tall.”

Now, point to the short student and say “short” - “He (She) is short.” You want to show how the words long and short go together. Other ways to demonstrate "long" and "short" are to compare hairstyles, buildings, trees or other items that can be described in these terms. This is a very effective way of using a body language lesson for ESL students.

Another Example

When you point, wave, shake or nod your head, you can also assist students in understanding the lesson. Without saying a word, you can get them to answer “Yes” to a question or assure them that they’re right; and by shaking your head to indicate that an answer is “No” or that they are wrong.

For example, you ask the student “What is the weather like today? It is hot isn’t it?” However, the weather is not hot, and you also indicated to the student that he or she should answer with a full sentence, using the vocabulary learned. You shake your head, and you expect the student to deliver, “No, it isn’t. It’s cold.”

Here is another example. "With which body part do I smile?” After a few seconds, if the student does not understand, you point to your mouth and smile. Then, you ask the student to smile; you write the word on the board, and the student remembers the word smile, how to say it, what it means and how to write it.


business-people-giving ~vl0007b086 There are however some drawbacks in body language. These you should teach your students in body language for ESL lessons. Let them know that across cultures there are different systems of understanding gestures, posture, emotional expressions, silence, touch and other non-verbal cues. After you have explained this, invite students to share what they know about differences in their culture compared to the American or British culture, for example.

It would be very interesting to hear their views. For example, emotions of enjoyment, fear, anger, surprise, sadness and disgust are expressed in similar ways by people around the world. However, differences surface in respect to which emotions are acceptable for a person to display in certain settings, and also by whom. In the United States for example, in some settings it may be more socially acceptable for women to show fear, but not anger; and for men to display anger, but not fear. When you are explaining this, you can use gestures to display fear and anger. Have the students also work at using gestures to display various emotions.

Use the Right Gestures

At all costs, in your body language lesson for ESL students, explain to your students in that while they may use body language to get across a point to an English speaking person, they must always be aware that many non-verbal messages are not only “culture-specific, but also liable to cause misunderstanding among people of different backgrounds.


Business People Giving OK Hand Gesture - Google Images