How to use Gestures

Using gestures or facial expressions is a great way to give your learner instructions and feedback without disrupting the flow of the lesson.

Even better, gestures decrease ‘teacher talk time’ and allow your student to practice speaking more as they respond to your non-verbal cues.  

Watch the video version and subscribe to our Teaching Ideas playlist for more tips. 

1. Louder, please

This gesture of cupping a hand behind the ear with a frown (see picture) encourages your learner to increase the volume.

You can exaggerate by lifting the other palm up for more effect if they are still talking too quietly.

2. Are you sure?

This gesture involves tilting the head, raising the eyebrows and turning the mouth downwards at the ends.

It prompts the student to review their answer and can be used at any time (even if they are right) to make them reflect on their learning. 

3. Work together

To make this gesture, interlink the fingers of both hands.

This visual cue tells your learners to anticipate working in a group and to value teamwork when completing tasks.

4. Your turn

Extend your open palm in the direction of the student. Be careful here, some countries consider any form of pointing rude so you could nod your head in their direction instead.

This is useful if you are drilling pronunciation for individuals around the class or would like to offer a question to a specific learner.

5. Listen

Place your cupped hand around your ear and make sure your mouth is closed!

Listening is a key part and good listening habits should be encouraged. This will help your students be respectful when interacting with others.

6. Say / read aloud

Use your index finger to point to your mouth from your chin.

Using this gesture makes it clear to your student that you want them to speak, not to listen or read silently in their head.

7. First, second, third

When giving instructions, you should always break them down into small, easy-to-follow steps.

Using one, two and three fingers to represent first, second and third will help your learner to better visualize the order of tasks.

8. Well done!

Young learners should receive frequent feedback from you during the lesson, but it doesn’t always have to be verbal.

Sometimes, a nod, smile, cheerful silent clap or thumbs up will encourage them to keep trying. 

You can offer praise without interrupting their efforts or diverting the attention of the class back towards you.

9. Keep going

Hold both hands in front of your chest and rotate them in circles going forwards. You can add a quick head nod, raised eyebrows and a smile too.

This gesture indicates to the learner that they are on the right track and they should continue. Perhaps their answer is almost there, and they need time to finish their idea.

10. Almost

This gesture should only be used if you have a good rapport with your students and they feel comfortable in your learning environment.

The reason for the caveat is that it could make your learner self-conscious. It should be balanced with equal amounts of positive reinforcement such as “Good effort!” or “Keep going!”

To achieve it, rock your head from side to side and scrunch up your features. This will encourage the learner to self-correct.

Remember that you should praise their effort, whether they can find the correct answer or not.

11. Sit down / stand up

With your hand held out horizontally and the palm facing down, lower it to tell your students to sit down.

To ask them to stand without speaking, flip the hand so that the palm is now facing upwards and raise it.

12. Think and discuss

Tap your temple at the side of your head with your finger and a quizzical look on your face.

Then, create a circle in front of you with outstretched arms and circle one hand like you are mixing a bowl.

This gesture is helpful for setting up breakout chats or discussions, and sets the expectation that everyone should participate.

13. Questions

Students need to be taught to recognize questions, so this is a fun way to exaggerate them to help them notice.

Whenever they encounter a question or you ask the class something, flip and drop both hands to your sides and pull a funny face.

This helps young learners associate that the question words require a response from them.

14. Empty hands

This gesture was a game-changer when teaching my students how to read. It can help them stay focused on a text or task.

Raise all fingers of your empty hands and making a tinkling sound (tiddleydiddlydee) or funny sound effect. 

This helped my learners stay in the zone so that they could follow the text with their finger and not fiddle or doodle with pencils.

15. Eyes up / eyes down

Using two fingers to point to your eyes, raise them up to show that you need the students to look at you or the board.

You can do the opposite and drop them down to indicate that students should be looking down and carrying on with their work.

During tests or when reading, it is particularly important for students to concentrate and not let their eyes wander around the room.

16. Are you on task?

This one is a classic warning that I remember my teachers using at school! This one requires a bit of brow dexterity.

Raise one eyebrow, purse your lips, place one hand on your hip and lower your chin for the complete effect.

This signal lets the child know that you are watching them and expecting them to remain on task. It’s subtle but it really works!


Enjoy trying out these gestures with your students! 

Remember to reinforce these actions with the instructions or while giving feedback so that your learners understand what they mean.

Coming soon, we’ll share more tips on how you can use mime to introduce the meaning of new vocabulary.

Subscribe to our Teaching Ideas playlist for the video of this post and more ideas on classroom management.


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