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Non-Verbal Signals

Non-verbal signals may be used as a form of communication between teacher and students. Students can communicate a need, such as using the restroom, without verbally asking or interrupting the discussion. Signals allow the teacher to immediately know what the student needs, rather than stopping to respond to a general hand raised in the air. Teachers can also use non-verbal signals to reply to student requests and to emphasize actions that students need to perform.

How to use

1. Determine student and teacher signals

Determine the non-verbal signals that you would like to implement in your classroom. Depending on the age of the students, it’s recommended that only a few are used so that students are not overwhelmed or confused. Commonly used student signals include using an agreed-upon number of fingers for using the restroom, for sharpening a pencil, and for drinking water. Commonly used teacher signals include nodding the head for “yes,” shaking the head for “no,” pointing the index finger for “go ahead” and holding up an open hand for “wait”.

2. Create visuals

Create a sign or poster that displays an example of the signal as well as what the signal should be used for. (See Visual section to the right). Display the signs or posters in the classroom where they can always be seen and can serve as a reminder to students.

3. Create student and teacher signals

Teach these non-verbal signals with the beginning of the year classroom procedures. Be sure to review them frequently until students are using them consistently.

When to use

Student and teacher signals can be taught to students at the beginning of the school year and used throughout the entire year. It is best to re-teach signals upon returning to school from an extended break, such as winter break or spring break. These non-verbal signals are most beneficial during a class discussion or while the teacher is talking, so as not to disturb the rest of the class.


Other Teacher Signals

Using teacher signals is a less-intrusive deterrent technique to get students on track with what they should be doing. Students who might protest an oral request often respond more readily to a hand signal. Signals used by the teacher may include pointing to his or her eyes and then to the student’s paper in order to communicate “eyes on your paper.” The teacher may use his or her hands in a book formation to signal “open your book.” Many teachers also mime writing to indicate “you should be writing.”

Attention Signal

One of the most powerful non-verbal tools is a specific hand signal used by the teacher as a way to gain the attention of the entire class. See Attention Signal teaching tool.

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