Students use both verbal and non-verbal behaviors to cue their peers about their current emotions, interests, etc. Non-verbal cueing involves the use of body language and movement, e.g., facial expressions, gestures, body posture, etc.
In many respects, body language communicates more about one’s emotions than words. When there is a discrepancy between a person’s words and his/her body language, people tend to respond more to their interpretations of how a person says something, than to what has been said.
Both interpreting (“reading”) and “projecting” the appropriate body language are important social skills. Students who are effective socially are able to match their spoken language with their body language and movement. The effective combining of verbal and body language facilitates understanding by others, and elicits responses that are appropriate to the situation.
Here are some strategies to help students develop their ability to interpret and use non-verbal cues.
- Use modeling and role-playing to help students learn the messages that are communicated by specific gestures and movements. Have students practice interpreting what others are communicating based on “reading” their body language. Also, have them practice projecting certain moods, feelings, etc., by using body language.
- Help individual students improve their interactions by clearly identifying what they are doing wrong in terms of body language (e.g., standing too close, not looking at the person when in conversation), and what they should do instead (e.g., stand at an arm’s length during face-to-face conversations, occasionally look at the conversation partner when speaking).
- Reinforce students privately for using appropriate non-verbal signals during conversations, group activities, etc.