For the successful management of a classroom, sometimes it’s what isn’t said that could be the most effective tool.

Nonverbal cues and how teachers should use them

Nonverbal cues and communication can provide an excellent way for teachers and students to communicate, without the same disruption caused by speaking up or shouting out. To establish messages quickly and effectively, there are few better tools.

You might be wondering what nonverbal cues can be used for.

Here are just a few examples:
  • Getting the attention of the teacher, or for the teacher to gain the attention of the class
  • To encourage the class to become quiet and listen carefully
  • To communicate agreement or disagreement with a statement or lesson
  • To ask for help or additional support with a project or task

For students and teachers, communicating without words has long been a part of the traditional classroom. Raising your hand to ask a question, for example, is one way in which these cues are used daily in classrooms across the world. Nonverbal cues are useful, practical, and universal – making them suitable for just about any school, even those with English as a second language.

For some inspiration on nonverbal cues you can use within the classroom, read on for some ideas and signals that might be the ideal choice for implementation:

Attention, please

Raising a hand is the traditional way to draw attention, whether you’re a student or a teacher. However, taking that one step further with the quiet coyote hand signal can be a way to draw attention that’s a little more fun, and a lot more distinctive. Students and teachers can form their hands into a dog-like shape (similarly to hand puppets) and raise their hand to draw immediate attention.

For teachers, encouraging students to return the signal could also be a valuable addition to the routine. For more interaction in deciding the best way to communicate quietness to students, the teacher could also ask for input on the symbol used each school year, to help get students more invested in the process.

Bathroom time

To differentiate other needs for attention from bathroom breaks, and to avoid embarrassment in front of the class, introducing symbols that indicate the need for a quick toilet break can be efficiently utilized in the classroom. An example of this would be raising the hand and crossing the fingers over, providing a clear differentiation between raising the hand to answer a question and the need for a bathroom break.

This silent signal can then be approved by the teacher, making the process quicker and more efficient for both the student and the educator than waiting for questions to be answered before taking care of business. Suggested by The Science Penguin, this symbol is also particularly valid during standardized testing, allowing students to ask for the bathroom without speaking out loud.

I get it/I don’t get it

Thumbs up and thumbs down is a well-known system for most children, making it incredibly easy to integrate into the average classroom. For learning, instead of asking for feedback from each child, teachers can quickly and easily assess the understanding of their class on a particular subject. With ‘thumbs up’ indicating they understand, ‘thumbs down’ meaning they don’t get it and ‘in the middle’ meaning they need a little more help.

From this nonverbal cue or symbol, teachers can quickly and easily figure out who needs extra help on something. For students, this process can feel more reassuring as they are not singled out. For even more reliable results that aren’t influenced by classmates, teachers can also ask students to close their eyes before giving the signal.

I’m finished

Another practical and easy to remember cue for students, teachers can provide a special symbol to use when they have finished their project work, test or other assignments, allowing their work to be checked or collected with minimal disruption. This could be, for example, raising three fingers as opposed to the whole hand.

This cue allows for quiet work in the classroom, where needed, to remain calm and free of disruption. For children learning how to work in standardized testing environments, this can be particularly vital to ensure they know when silence is required. However, this symbol is also valuable for loud classrooms, where a single child’s voice may not heard, but they still want your attention quickly and efficiently.

Do you utilize nonverbal cues within your classroom? From raising hands to thumbs up, bathroom breaks to finishing work; there are many ways these symbols can be invaluable for your students. Let us know which ones you use in the comments below.