Body Language ESL Lesson Plan

Instructor: Sharon Linde
English as a second language (ESL) students not only have to learn new words, they also have to understand nuanced body language. This lesson plan uses activities and direct instruction to help ESL students better understand body language.

Learning Objectives

After this lesson, students will be able to:

  • define the English term 'body language' in their native language
  • identify different types of body language
  • demonstrate body language


45-50 minute lessons


  • Index cards
  • Colored pencils
  • Chart paper
  • Markers
  • Magazines
  • Scissors
  • Glue

Key Vocabulary

  • Shrug
  • Stare
  • Glare
  • Shake
  • Scratch
  • Eye contact
  • Hand gesture

Curriculum Standards

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.8.1

Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 8 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.8.1

Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.


  • Index cards
  • Chart paper
  • Magazines
  • Scissors
  • Glue

Direct Instruction

  • Label the board with the words 'Body Language' and explain the meaning to students.
  • Now ask students to describe how the following are communicated using body language in their home culture:
    • Okay
    • Stop
    • Wait a minute
    • Please!
    • Good job!
  • Discuss how different cultures use this and other unspoken words to communicate. Compare and contrast meanings from each culture and explain what each hand gesture means in English.
  • Divide students into partner-pairs and give them verbal commands, asking them to take turns giving their partner the hand gestures. For example, when you say 'Tell your partner they did a good job,' students should give their partner a 'thumbs up.'
  • End by explaining that body language isn't just limited to hand gestures but includes the whole body. Demonstrate by making gestures such as throwing your hands in the air in frustration or pacing back and forth. Have them interpret the actions by guessing what they mean in their native language.
  • Briefly discuss what these body language postures typically mean in the US.

Body Language Charades

  • Start class by brainstorming different types of body language with students, recording each on an index card. For example, pacing can mean waiting for something or shrugging your shoulders means 'I don't know.'
  • If students need a native-language translation, have them write it below the English word/phrase for the gesture or movement.
  • Divide students into small teams to play charades that enact body languages.
  • Choose one team to go first and one player from the team to act out the body language.
  • Allow the actor to choose a card and have them make the gestures while the team mates identify.
  • Time teams to see how fast they can identify the gestures.
  • Challenge students by having them add onto the gesture by assigning a made-up scenario. For example, a person may pace back and forth because they're waiting for a bus.

Make a Body Language Collage

  • Divide students into small groups and give each a piece of chart paper, magazines, scissors, and glue.
  • Have students page through the magazines to find images of people using body language. Have them cut out the pictures and glue onto their chart paper.
  • Tell students to label their image with an English language 'definition' for the image. For example, a man yawning may be labeled 'bored.'
    • If students need assistance with the 'definitions,' allow them to use their native-language-to-English dictionaries.
  • When finished, have students share their collages with the class, then hang to display.

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