24 February, 2009

Teaching & Nonverbal Communication

By C. Radhakrishnan

As teachers we always take care of what we speak in the classroom. But, do you ever think of your nonverbal communication in the classroom? Experts say that nonverbal communication is as important as verbal communication in teaching-learning process.

Why should teachers know nonverbal behaviours?
• Knowledge of nonverbal behaviour will allow you to become better receivers of students' messages.
• You will become a better sender of signals that reinforce learning.
• This method of communication increases psychological closeness between teacher and student.

What are the major nonverbal behaviours?
Major nonverbal behaviours are eye contact, facial expressions, gestures, posture and body orientation, proximity, paralinguistics and humour.

1. Eye Contact is an important means of interpersonal communication which helps control the flow of communication. Teachers who make eye contact open the flow of communication and convey interest, concern, affection and credibility.

2. A facial expression is another major area to be explored for improving nonverbal communication. Smiling is a powerful sign that transmits: happiness, friendliness, warmth, liking and relationship. Thus, if you smile always you will be perceived as more friendly, warm and approachable. Smiling is often contagious and students will react favourably and learn more.

3. Gestures convey a lot to the learners. If you fail to gesture while speaking, you may be perceived as boring, stiff and unanimated. A lively and animated teaching style captures students' attention, makes the material more interesting, facilitates learning and provides a bit of entertainment. Head nods, a form of gesture, communicate positive reinforcement to students and indicate that you are listening. Avoid making typical gestures every time.

4. Posture and body orientation communicate many messages by the way you walk, talk, stand and sit. Standing erect, but not rigid, and leaning slightly forward communicates to students that you are approachable, receptive and friendly. Furthermore, interpersonal contact results when you and your students face each other. Speaking with your back turned or looking at the floor or ceiling or black board should be avoided; it communicates disinterest to your class. Always talk to the eyes.

5. Proximity: Our cultural norms dictate a comfortable distance for interaction with students. You should look for signals of discomfort caused by invading students' space. Typically, in large classrooms space invasion is not a problem. In fact, there is usually too much distance between the teacher and student in Indian classrooms. To avoid this, move around the classroom to increase interaction with your students. Increasing proximity allows you to make better eye contact and increases the opportunities for students to speak.

6. Paralinguistic includes vocal elements such as tone, pitch, rhythm, quality of sound, loudness and modulation. For maximum teaching effectiveness, learn to vary these six elements of your voice. One of the major criticisms is of teachers who speak in a monotone. Students perceive these teachers as boring and dull. Students say that they learn less and lose interest more quickly when listening to teachers who have not learned to modulate their voices.

7. Humour is often ignored as a teaching tool, and it is too often not encouraged in school classrooms. Laughter releases stress and tension for both teacher and student. You should develop the ability to laugh at yourself and encourage students to do the same. It promotes a friendly classroom environment that facilitates better learning.

Obviously, adequate knowledge of the subject matter is crucial to your success; however, it's not the only crucial element. Creating a climate, that facilitates learning and retention demands good nonverbal and verbal skills. To improve your nonverbal skills, record your video and watch it yourself or get the help of a colleague or an expert and find suggestions for refinements. Talking in front of a mirror is also an excellent technique to find and correct negative nonverbal gestures.


1. Kyriacou, Chris (2005); “Essential Teaching Skills”; Nelson Thornes Ltd, UK – High Range School Library, TTL, Mattupatti.
2. http://www.blatner.com/adam/level2/nverb2.htm
3. http://www.fhsu.edu/~zhrepic/Teaching/GenEducation/nonverbcom/nonverbcom.htm