A Nonverbal Communication Lesson

A Nonverbal Communication Lesson

(with Dilek Eryılmaz)

Nonverbal communication has been a focus of attention for some time in areas such as business presentation skills and personal social skills. However it has received little attention, in language teaching as a complement to spoken language, though recent trends in neuro linguistic programming regarding mirroring and parallel body language have filtered into current research and practice. Nonverbal communication is a system consisting of a range of features often used together to aid expression, ranging from gesture and facial expression, through tone of voice and the use of space, to dress and posture. The combination of these features is often a subconscious choice made by native speakers, but for the learner, can be a barrier to natural communication and the cause of misunderstanding. On the grounds that ‘it’s not what you say, it’s the way that you say it’, there is much to be said for teaching nonverbal communication either parallel to, or integrated with, a language and skills based syllabus, in the same way that phonology is often treated. Like grammatical structures, nonverbal communication has form, function and meaning, all of which may vary from language to language. Relatively few techniques have been suggested for teaching nonverbal communication, though the use of mime and other drama-based activities and watching video clips without sound raise awareness of gesture and expression.

A Nonverbal Communication Lesson

This lesson was delivered by a trainee teacher as part of teaching practice on a recent CELTA course at the Izmir University of Economics, Izmir, Turkey. The lesson was planned by the trainee, with advice and some materials provided by the course tutor.

Lesson Plan

Teacher: Dilek Eryılmaz
Duration: 60 minutes
Level: Intermediate
No. of students: 12

Main aims:
– to raise awareness of the importance of nonverbal communication.
– to present/teach a variety of nonverbal cues.
– to enable learners to practise and produce aspects of nonverbal communication.

Subsidiary aims:
To develop and integrate the skills of reading, writing, listening and speaking.

Target language:
Aspects of facial expression, gesture and posture.

Text for running dictation
Pictures of facial expressions and gestures (original and from Nolasco and Arthur –Conversation) (on OHT)
Dialogue for practice (from a presentation by Paul Seligson)
Video clip (Mr. Bean)
Extract from a play (Oscar Wilde – A Woman of no Importance), picture to set the scene.

Stages and Procedure


To introduce the topic and briefly practise all four skills.(7 minutes)
Running dictation (pairs). Text gives a brief definition of nonverbal communication. Teacher gives instructions without speaking through gesture and mime.


Nonverbal communication is the unspoken communication that goes on in every face-to-face encounter with another human being. It tells you their true feelings towards you and how well your words are being received. 90% of our message is communicated nonverbally, and only 10% is actual words.


To elicit/teach key terms and raise awareness of body language. (5 minutes). Elicit ‘nonverbal communication’ from the preceding text. Students brainstorm terms onto whiteboard, teacher adds missing key items. Brief discussion of importance of nonverbal communication.


To intoduce a number of facial expressions and gestures and their meanings. (10 minutes). Show OHT of expressions/gestures. Ask students their meanings in their own culture, and what they might mean in English speaking cultures. Demonstrate variety of meanings and show how intercultural misunderstandings might occur.


Ask students if they know any others.


To practise expressions, gestures and posture. (13 minutes). Students work in pairs on a scripted dialogue. First, student B replies silently to half of the dialogue read by student B, then A replies to the other half of the dialogue. Both students become familiar with the dialogue then act out the whole dialogue using expressions, gestures and posture. Give plenty of time for thought and rehearsal, remind students to stand up to practise posture and whole body language.


A Excuse me. Can you take a picture of me ?
B Yeah, sure.
A Just press that button.
B Er, which one ?
A The one on the top.
B OK, right. Er…. can you move back a bit.
A Is this OK?
B Fine, now smile. Thay’s it. Very nice.
A Thanks.
B Not at all. You’ve got a lovely smile. Er… fancy a drink ?
A OK, but I’ve got no money on me.
B That’s OK. I’ll pay.

Developing listening/viewing skills and dialogue building

(15 minutes). Students watch a one minute (maximum) clip from an episode of Mr. Bean, showing Mr. Bean being chased and interviewed by police at an airport. Half the class write the dialogue for Mr Bean, half write the dialogue for one of the police officers. Students combine in pairs to put the dialogue together, rehearse and perform for the class if they wish.


To give students the opportunity to use verbal and nonverbal communication in the context of a play. (10 minutes). Teacher shows OHT picture of an English country house sitting room and sets the scene:

Sitting room at Mrs. Arbuthnot’s. Large open French window at back, looking onto garden. Gerald Arbuthnot is writing at the table. Lady Hunstanton and Mrs. Allonby enter the room. Threy are worried about Mrs. Arbuthnot.

Students work in groups of three and are given a short extract from a play, complete with stage directions including nonverbal cues. Students work on the three-part dialogue and act it out using body language to add dramatic effect.


LADY HUNSTANTON (Smiling). Good morning, Gerald.

GERALD (Rising). Good morning, Lady Hunstanton. Good morning,
Mrs. Allonby.

LADY HUNSTANTON (Sitting down) (Politely). We came to inquire for your dear mother, Gerald. I hope she is better?

GERALD (Apologetically). My mother has not come down yet, Lady Hunstanton.

LADY HUNSTANTON. Ah, I am afraid the heat was too much for her last night. I think there must have been thunder in the air. Or perhaps it was the music. Music makes one feel so romantic – at least it always gets on one’s nerves.

MRS. ALLONBY (Sarcastically). It’s the same thing, nowadays.

LADY HUNSTANTON. I am so glad I don’t know what you mean, dear. I am afraid you mean something wrong. Ah, I see you’re examining Mrs. Arbuthnot’s pretty room. Isn’t it nice and old-fashioned?

MRS. ALLONBY (Looking through her glasses). It looks quite the happy English home.

LADY HUNSTANTON. That’s just the word, dear; that just describes it. (Turning to Gerald). One feels your mother’s good influence in everything she has about her, Gerald

Reflections on the Lesson and Conclusions

On reflection, this may have been an overambitious lesson, attempting to take students from an introduction to a concept with which they were unfamiliar to a full-blown production stage. The learners found the first three stages of the lesson both interesting and entertaining. They enjoyed the running dictation and comparing the meanings of different gestures in different cultures, and were very forthcoming in the brainstorming and presentation activities. This was the first time the learners had been exposed to this kind of lesson, and found the practice activities progressively more difficult though this may have been due to the selection of materials. The video clip needs to be very simple and to involve only two characters. Students were not sure whether to write down what the characters might be thinking as well as saying. Similarly, the extract from the play was not entirely appropriate, being very culture-bound. Something more contemporary and obviously fun and entertaining, or a specially scripted play would have produced better results. Nevertheless, the students performed well and thoroughly enjoyed the lesson. Aims were clearly achieved from both the teacher’s and the learners’ perspectives. There are a number of lessons to be learnt from this experience, particularly that non-verbal communication needs to be taught in small chunks in appropriate situations where the situational or thematic context lends itself to the language. Secondly, time needs to be devoted to confidence-building, creativity and other drama-based activities which help learners to produce natural language and to use expressions and gestures to reinforce meaning. Finally, non-verbal communication, like phonology, should be taught from beginner level. A step-by-step awareness-raising approach is appropriate. Attention to gesture and expression, in particular, adds to the cultural component that verbal communication carries. Awareness of non-verbal communication helps to avoid intercultural misunderstandings whilst adding an extra dimension to natural language production.

With thanks to Dilek Eryılmaz for the lesson and feedback.

 first published 31 October 2005                      http://developingteachers.com/articles_tchtraining/nonverbal1.htm

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