Your Teaching Body, pt 3: Gestures & Facial Expressions

This post narrows the focus of the previous posts on Your Teaching Body (Location & Variation, Movement & Posture) right down to our hands and faces. The uses of gestures as meta-conversation, especially, are easy to learn and much more powerful than I realized when I first began to explore them.

This post is the fifth in a series on tricks and techniques that observers in my classes at this summer’s iFLT and Express Fluency conferences found especially memorable. The first post is here.

Gestures as meta-conversation (video)

The most important role of gestures in my classes is for students and me to communicate about the learning process in real time, allowing us to continually streamline our TL interactions. The video below introduces how we use gestures to…

1. maximize TL communication in our limited time together,

2. identify and meet our needs as learners, and

3. hone a kind of mindfulness conducive to acquiring a language peacefully.

The video includes five core gestures and tips for their implementation.

Gestures as vocabulary cue

Many teachers use gestures determined by students or ASL signs to refer to specific TL words and expressions. I don’t do this as much as I used to, but some students say that gestures have helped them start getting the hang of a word. I myself find vocabulary-specific gestures most useful for comprehension checks (Teacher [in TL]: “Show me wants to go” – Students respond with the established gestures or signs), for increased physical movement in general, and for tasks such as “gesture retells,” where one partner reads a story aloud while the other gestures along, or one partner attempts to narrate a story that the other person is acting out with gestures.

If you use gestures as vocab cues, you and your students will soon need to decide whether a given gesture has become tedious or distracting and thus does more harm than good. You can stage a tiny ‘retirement ceremony’ for the obsolete gesture!

Check out Tina Hargaden’s quick demonstration of how she introduces and reinforces gestures as vocabulary cues:

Facial expressions

In addition to the general expressiveness (see pic below) that can draw students in and support the meaning of speech, I recommend that we all have at least these three faces in our repertoire:

1. Queen Victoria Stare – popularized by Fred Jones, this is a calm, neutral, patient, unimpressed face directed toward students who are acting inappropriately. Read more about it and the concomitant Regal Turn here.

2. Attentive Listening Face – this can look different from person to person. People tell me that when I tilt my head to the side a bit and squint ever so slightly, it conveys the fact that I am listening intently and care about what is being said. You already have your own Attentive Listening Face. Ask someone you trust to describe it to you and see if you use it with your students. Of course, if you already listen attentively and with care to what your students say, you’re probably already showing them this face!

3. Genuine Smile – it’s okay to break into a smile when you or a student is happy! A sincere smile from you can bathe the room in joy and calm in an instant.

yes, these are all candid (photos with whiteboard in background by Allison Litten, all others by Annica Ahlstrom)

How do you and your students use gestures and/or facial expressions?

COMING SOMEDAY: Your Teaching Body, pt 4: Body & Voice as a Unit

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