Monday, December 24, 2012

Body Language - The Teacher's Silent Messenger

Body Language
Body Language (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Richard D Boyce

Your body language transmits signals to your audience that are read as part of your presentation.

If you are transmitting nervous gestures or are too casual, the audience gets the message.

This will strongly affect your message and the way the audience (your class) will interpret what you say.

It is important to remember that the audience in a public address is on your side. They want you to be successful in delivering words in a way that adds something special to their day.

On the other hand, the 'terrors' of your class will use any distraction (poor body language) to divert their attention from what you want them to do or learn.

Body language can be a useful tool in your teaching 'armour' if used appropriately. It can add emphasis, excitement and emotion to what you say and help motivate your students to learn.

Public speaking clubs place great emphasis on teaching their members how best to use their body language to assist their speaking. Teachers need always to set a good example of how to speak well and could learn from the techniques taught in these clubs.

As a member of such a club, I learnt the 'Do's and Don'ts' of body language. Therefore, I have divided this article into two sections. They are (a) The 'Do's' and (b) The 'Don'ts' of body language.

The Do's Of Body Language

The aims of these 'Do's' are to relax you and to keep the concentration of your students on what you are saying and not on your mannerisms. Practise these to gain that attention.

• Find a comfortable stance that is not too casual. It must allow you to gesture with ease as well as to move to demonstrate or write on the board or use a technological aid.
• Keep constant eye contact with your class.
• Smile often. That's easy because it only takes 12 muscles to smile but 72 to frown so why frown at all?
• Lean forward towards a person while listening to their question.
• Nod, when appropriate.
• Use gesture to add meaning to what you say.
• Make sure you maintain close contact with the class, i.e. stay close to the body of the class, e.g. near the board.
• Show your enthusiasm for what you are doing in your voice, your gesture and the way you stand.

The Don'ts Of Body Language

Here are some of the 'Don'ts' of body language that you should avoid because they can and will distract your audience and lessen dramatically the message of what you have to say.

• Don't shuffle, sway, or pace up and down.
• Don't be immobile. You lose the visual impact that your body language can add to your words.
• Avoid meaningless and repetitive gestures.
• No gesture (this means that your aural communication will not be reinforced because of the lack of visual communication usually given by gesture).
• Deadpan expression. By having such an expression you are not using a valuable asset (facial expressions) to convey sincerity and/or the importance to what you say.
• Nervous appearance. This gives the impression that you are not sure of what you have to say or are teaching. Remember you will always know 99% of the time much, much more than your students. Therefore, be confident or break the topic up into small manageable slices to ease your nervousness.
• Colourless language. This does not add interest or excitement to what you say or teach. It won't excite you, either so your body language will be colourless as well. No one says that when you teach you must use boring language. Use words that add colour and excitement to what you teach. Make it a goal to look for ways to add colourful language to your lessons.

Finally, it is important to stress here that your body language is part of the whole package which is you. If you are not excited about teaching your students new skills and watching them develop, your students will see that in how you present your teaching program.

They will see that what you are doing is not important enough for you to present it in the best possible way. Therefore, why should they get excited about it or regard it as important if you give the impression it is not?

This article is one of many on speaking and listening in the classroom to be found in an eBook called, "Speaking and Listening for the Teacher and the Student". It is available on the website

Our author gained valuable experience on speaking during his time as a member of the public speaking organization, Rostrum. He used that experience to help trainee teachers improve their lesson presentation. Listening is also an important skill for students. In the eBook, he writes about how he taught listening skills. He frequently used oral problem solving quizzes to enhance these skills.

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