1.2 Communicating through gestures

On this page

  1. Importance of communicating through gestures
    1.1 Giving directions with body language
    1.2 Not giving directions with body language
    1.3 Starting to give directions with body language
  2. Applying body language
    2.1 Applying body language in whole class teaching and working independently
    2.2 Different approach to whole class teaching or working independently
  3. Summary

With body language, teachers give inaudible practical directions. As a result, students pay more attention to the lesson.

With body language, I give friendly and inaudible directions. If possible, I replace verbal directions with unambiguous gestures or signals. As a result, all attention goes to the learning objective. When I teach, I speak two languages synchronously:

  1. I explain verbally.
  2. With body language I give directions.

Current approach:

What directions do I give with body language up to now?

Future approach:

What directions do I give with body language in the future?

Introduction video


‘Communication through gestures’ is one of the four modules of the perspective ‘Establishing a friendly tone’ of Friendly and Fair Teaching (FFT).

Figure 7: Establishing a friendly tone (overview)

With this module, you give directions silently. You talk less and that is why the lesson content is central. On this site, we pay attention to body language in three places:

  1. This page is about using body language in situations where there is no disruption to the lesson. You use these cues in situations where students are cooperating well.
  2. If a student disrupts the lesson you use body language. By doing so you reinforce positive behaviour. More information ‘Using body language‘ can be found at ‘Reinforce positive behaviour: first steps’
  3. In ‘Using body language – advise for teachers‘ you find more information about body language in general.

Using pictures to communicate:

Using pictures with instruction (Abacus or the Managing expectations folder) or by giving directions with a sound such as a bell can be very effective.

1. Importance of communicating through gestures

1.1 Communicating with gestures

You replace some of your verbal directions with directions with body language. The less you speak, the more peace and concentration for everyone.

1.2 Not communicating trough gestures

You give all directions verbally. This is tiring for yourself and for your students.

1.3 Start communicating through gestures

If you are not used to consciously using body language while teaching, for example because you feel uncomfortable doing so, FFT recommends starting with this module. The simplest gesture is the thumbs up as a compliment. With this gesture, you give positive feedback. If students respond quickly, for example to your request when changing work forms, show that you appreciate it with the thumbs up gesture.
Another example: When a student answers a question, nod your head to show that you understand and appreciate the answer.
If you are successful with that, look for other gestures or other forms of body language that you can also use effectively while teaching and with which you give directions inaudibly.

2. Applying body language

2.1 Applying body language in whole class teaching and working independently

The following directions you can use while teaching the entire class or when students are working independently.

  • Make eye contact. Look relaxed.
  • When you see a student working well, make a ‘thumbs up’ gesture. If the whole group is working well, make this gesture with two thumbs!
  • Gestures lend themselves well to giving simple directions. The advantage of gestures is that they are inaudible. If you always use the gestures in the same way in similar situations, they are unambiguous thereby increasing concentration. There is no (unconscious) hidden meaning behind gestures. A hidden meaning may be present in verbally given directions.
  • With gestures you make contact, even if there is noise. By not using your voice in a loud way, you stay calm.
  • Gestures also work at a distance (sometimes better than verbal directions).
  • You can give nonverbal cues in several ways: You can make a gesture big or keep it small. The trick is to achieve the greatest effect with the smallest gesture possible.
  • Use facial expressions. Side note, be aware that students with ASD (autism spectrum disorder) do not understand facial expressions well. Gestures with unambiguous meaning they understand effortlessly.
  • As you work with body language, you will always find new ways to give inaudible cues. The more verbal cues you replace with body language cues, the less you disrupt your own lesson.
  • By deliberately choosing a position in the class you you can increase the effect of what you say or make a gesture more effective.


We tend to adopt each other’s body language. Take advantage of that when you teach. If the class is busy, stay calm and don’t take over their fussiness. If the class is passive, enthuse your students. You show your students a situation-appropriate amount of energy with the expectation that they take over your energy (Managing emotions).

2.2 Different approach to whole class teaching or working independently

The way you use body language varies depending on your approaches to teaching. Below, the directions for whole class teaching and for working independently are broken down into two columns.

Whole class teaching

When teaching the entire class, by communication through gestures you increase your students’ concentration and provide undisturbed explanations. You can direct one person or to the entire group.

Example of a single-person instruction:
If you want to give a student a turn, make the ‘Start‘ gesture. There is no need to say, “Go ahead.”

Examples of directions aimed at the whole group:

  1. Adopt an expressive posture. If you stand in a confident manner with an open attitude, students are more likely to take you seriously and pay attention.
  2. If you want to start with a group and everyone is talking interchangeably, that doesn’t mean the group doesn’t want to start. The way you ask for attention sets the mood. If you use a gesture to ask for silence (for example, the ‘Lighthouse gesture‘) then your students get used to it and the lesson starts quietly and with concentration.
  3. Suppose all your students are standing and you want them to sit down, then make this gesture. There is no need to say (in a loud tone), “Sit down.”
  4. When you finish your explanation and you want everyone to get to work, make this gesture.

Working independently

During independent work you can communicate through gestures with one person or with a small group. By communicating through gestures, you do not distract the remaining students with a your verbal instruction.

When you have eye contact, with a student, your directions also work over a greater distance. This is similar to sign language of the deaf. Would you give a verbal clue at a distance then it is necessary to raise your voice. This disrupts the concentration of the other students. This is avoided by communicating through gestures.


  1. When a student raises his finger and looks at you, you go to the student or you ask the student to come to you with a gesture. If you are close together, communicate softly so that the other students can continue working undisturbed.
  2. If your students are working independently on an assignment in silence and time is running out, indicate that moment for example by handing out something. Then the students know that it is time to complete their assignment.
  3. If your students are working independently and you want to return to teaching the entire class, use the gesture ‘Changing appoach to teaching‘.

3. Summary

Communication through gestures provides clarity and calmness. As a result, your students can concentrate better and you teach in a relaxed manner.