Body Language Questions for ESL Students

Instructor: Jesse Richter

Jesse holds two masters, a doctorate and has 15 years of academic experience in areas of education, linguistics, business and science across five continents.

This lesson introduces the concept of body language and provides discussion questions to be used with ESL students of varying ages and ability levels. Additional considerations for implementation are offered.

Without Words: Body Language

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You have probably thought carefully about how body language is either intentionally or unintentionally used in the classroom. Body language is any communication conveyed by facial expressions, hand gestures, posturing, and any other form of visible message communicated through physical behavior. As teachers, we commonly substitute verbal language for body language when working with students; this is especially useful for language learners who may be unaware of cultural norms for body language in English-speaking countries.

Just as your students need to learn English, they need to learn the meaning of body language in English-speaking countries (which varies among these countries). Let's take a look at some questions we can use with our ESL students to help them learn body language. These questions can be discussed by student partners or answered by individual students.

Body Language Questions

First of all, you might start by simply asking: What is body language? This will help to get students thinking actively and will also allow you to effectively survey background knowledge as you move into more detailed concepts.

In Your Culture

  • What are some examples of body language used commonly in your culture?
  • What are the meanings of those gestures in your home culture?
  • Personally, which forms of body language do you use when communicating with speakers of your own language?
  • Similarly, which forms of body language do you use to make communication with foreigners easier?

Across Cultures

  • How would our society be different without body language?
  • From your own experience, how are various forms of body language different from one culture to another?
  • What do you think we can learn from body language?
  • How much should we depend on body language for communication compared with spoken language?
  • Is body language helpful for learning English?

Appropriate versus Inappropriate Body Language

  • What are some body language gestures or facial expressions we should avoid?
  • How do we know when it is appropriate or inappropriate to use certain body language gestures?
  • How would you respond to someone who bothers you by using unpleasant body language?
  • From your experience, how do you see body language being used differently among younger people v. older people?
  • What are the similarities and differences of nonverbal communication in formal (e.g. work or school) environments compared with informal (e.g. family conversation) situations?
  • What types of nonverbal communication are mostly reserved for certain situations? Examples?

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