Body Language

This is an activity I came up with to teach American body language to students. It has a cross-cultural aspect to it as students talk about body language in their own cultures. I originally came up with this lesson as part of a slang course for Afghan students who were going to study in the US under the YES scholarship and they loved it.

Objectives

  • To teach students body language and how it is used in America.
  • To compare American body language with the students’ own cultures’ body language.

Materials

Warm Up

Ask students what body language is. If they are having trouble, this is a great chance to give a demonstration. For example, nod your head and ask students what it means. Probably they will say it means, “Yes”. Tell them that this is body language, gestures we use that have meanings.

This is a good time to establish that body language is different from culture to culture. If you are familiar with your students’ host culture (or students’ host cultures) you can give them an example. For instance, in America, if you make a fist and hold your pinky and thumb out it usually means a phone. In Russian-speaking cultures, it means a bottle of vodka. You can demonstrate this by making the gesture and ask them what it means. When they say, “vodka”, put it up to your head and say, “Hello, who is it?”

Now ask them why it might be important to know body language in America. This helps to establish the reason for the lesson but it also motivates students to pay attention more. Asking students why it is important to learn something can also be a good way to figure out what they already know and what they may not understand.

Gestures

  • High Five
  • Thumbs Up
  • OK
  • Cross my heart
  • You’re Out
  • Cross your fingers
  • Wink
  • Thumbs Down
  • Shrug Shoulders
  • Nod
  • Shake Hands
  • Shake Head

First, you have to establish that students know what these gestures are. It is useful for them to know what these gestures are called as well, because we do sometimes talk about them instead of doing them.

One by one call on students and ask them to demonstrate a gesture. This way, they are teaching each other. If there are any left that none of the students know, demonstrate them yourself.

Now you can move on to what they mean. Draw a line down the board to make two columns next to the list of body gestures. Write “Your culture” at the top of one and “In the US” on the other. Now go over the list and ask students what they mean in their own culture and what they mean in the US. Correct any mistakes and be sure to give a lot of demonstrations.

Practice

Now you can hand out the body language dialogues. Students read the dialogues over and try to think of what body language they might insert into them. Make sure they understand that they shouldn’t over do it. Usually we don’t use these gestures every time we speak. Once students have thought about the dialogues, you can call on them to perform them with gestures.

Extension

For homework or review, students can write dialogues of their own that incorporate 3 different pieces of body language.

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