Satpal Singh/Application of body language in classroom

Satpal Singh

Assistant Professor

Lovely Professional University

Phagwara, Jallandhar, Punjab



The aim of this article is to explore the potential of body language in classroom. In this sink or swim world, where the competition level is very high, we cannot ignore a single aspect which is essential for the development and understanding of the student. Verbal and nonverbal communication in classroom plays a vital role. The current article will focus not only the gestures of student but teacher also. How can we, as teachers, be more interactive with students to deeply understand their mind and how can our message be delivered in a right manner? We use different methods in verbal communication like lecture, discussion and audio video aids but consciously or unconsciously our non verbal communication skills signal more than we speak and students catch these signals consciously or unconsciously.


Body language is not a modern phenomenon or the recent object of studies. Francis Bacon in his book ‘Of the Proficience and Advancement of Learning, Divine and Human’ in 1605 wrote,

“For Aristotle hath very ingeniously and diligently handled the factures of the body, but not the gestures of the body, which are no less comprehensible by art, and of greater use and advantage. For the lineaments of the body do disclose the disposition and inclination of the mind in general; but the motions of the countenance and parts do not only so, but do further disclose the present humour and state of the mind and will.” (p184)

Some of the gestures are inborn, some are attributed to the environment and culture in which an individual takes birth and dwells. One common inborn gesture is a newborn child shaking his head when he is fed to the full. Our ancestors used non verbal communication and gesture until language was developed. Charles Darwin in his book ‘The Expression Of The Emotions In Man And Animals’ states,

“With mankind some expressions such as bristling of the hair under the influence of extreme terror, or the uncovering of the teeth under that of furious rage, can hardly be understood, except on the belief that man once existed in a much lower and animal-like condition.” (p12)

Verbal communication is relatively new compared to non verbal communication like the journey of silent movies to modern movies. Verbal communication passes the message and nonverbal communication displays attitude. For instance, in class, teacher can speak ‘silence’ to make a student quiet if he is making noise or he/she can give a stare to that student.

A teacher can judge a student if he/she is holding any information or lying by analysing his/her body language. Scratching ear, back of head and avoiding eye contact are the symptoms of this. In the movie Hello Brother, Salman Khan goes to deliver something illegal and stops at police check post where Arbaaz Khan and other policemen are checking vehicles. Both of them are at quite a distance, yet Arbaaz figures out that Salman is carrying something illegal. He looks at his gestures and camera is focussed especially at his vocal chords when he swallows his saliva due to fear. This is common as when we are afraid of something wrong or concealing information or telling lies we are unable to communicate properly.

I have been teaching for last four years and made some observations. I analysed the body movements of students, their postures, eye contact and gestures to learn their confidence level, interest in the topic and their understanding to receive the message communicated to them verbally. The students display certain common traits in gestures which can be found in any audience. Their tilted heads, sitting postures, eye movements, position of feet and arms speak a lot about their attitude, interest and difficulty in decoding the message conveyed.

One day, when I entered the class, I noticed a student on the edge of the seat, tapping his feet on ground impatiently in the class. He was looking at his watch and at the door on a girl who was waving her hand to him. It took me a second to understand that he is eager to go out by making any excuse. I started the class with a smile and told them a concocted incident that yesterday a student came to me to excuse him from lecture so that he can go to hospital for his ailment and later I found him in the cafe enjoying coffee with his girlfriend. Then I realized my mistake and promised not to repeat the same. To my surprise, the posture of the student changed drastically. His shoulders dropped and he sank in the chair, realizing he has no chance to skip the class. There was no direct dialogue with that student but I made my point clear to him by analysing his body language.

In middle schools, during Maths class we are taught angles: Acute, right and obtuse. In gross terms one is below 90 degree, one exactly 90 degree and one is above 90 degree respectively. In class room, we can analyse the students’ interest by applying these angles to their sitting postures. If most of the students are sitting at acute to right angle, then you are successfully delivering your message. If majority of the students are couching at obtuse angles, then unfortunately your message is not decoded successfully. Teacher need to change his/her strategy. Students are not interested in boring and bombastic lectures.

Here, a smart teacher need to understand the signals transmitted non-verbally. Teacher can add something interesting. It can be fact or anecdote. To create laughter in class is not bad rather monotonous lecture where energy and time is wasted. A good teacher is entertainer also. We can make it more interactive by relating the topic to general life examples. If the number of students sitting at obtuse angle is less then you can ask question to those students. You will find an immediate change in their posture as they are caught off guard. The change in posture matters a lot in positive and negative framework of mind. Allan Pease says,

“A simple move, such as handing something to the listener to alter his pose, can cause a change in his attitude.”(p54)

Teacher is also responsible for emitting positive non verbal signals for a healthy and positive interaction with students. Folding arms, biting lips, avoiding eye contact, dropping shoulders, standing behind the desk all the time, holding folders against chest are barriers in communication. We get these examples in plays of Shakespeare too. In act iii, scene 2 of Shakespeare’s play ‘Henry VIII’, Norfolk says about Cardinal Wolsey,

“we have
Stood here observing him: some strange commotion
Is in his brain: he bites his lip, and starts;
Stops on a sudden, looks upon the ground,
Then lays his finger on his temple, straight
Springs out into fast gait; then stops again,
Strikes his breast hard, and anon he casts
His eye against the moon: in most strange postures…” (1977-84)


A teacher is bestowed with beautiful tools one of them is hand. He/She must use open palms to convince his/her pupils. Saying with open palm is the best way to make your point clear. Allan Pease asserts,

“Throughout history open palm has been associated with truth, honesty, allegiance and submission. Many oaths are taken with the palm of the hand over the heart, and the palm is held in the air when somebody is giving evidence in a court of law; the Bible is held in the left hand and the right palm held up for the members of the court to view.” (p28)

This will help a teacher to overcome his tendency to speak lies and become more convincing. Pease further asserts,

“It is possible, however, to make yourself appear more credible by practicing open palm gestures when communicating with others; conversely, as the open palm gestures become habitual, the tendency to tell untruths lessens.”(p29)

A teacher must know his/her space in the class. A teacher must be aware to use his dais, space around dais, chair and table. Teacher must walk in rows categorically showing his/her space in the class room and not sticking to lecture stand and delivering the lecture form dais. Some teachers restrict their movements only to dais and white board. Students may be using mobile phones and playing games on their notebooks rather listening to the lecture. Steele points,

“Even when we are aware of our experiences, we tend to have difficulty relating them to spatial causes; we are blind to the impact of settings. We lack the ability to look at our physical surroundings and their influences on us, and the necessary training is provided by neither our educational institutions nor work organizations. If someone does not know how to change something, he is unlikely to consider changing it. Tables, partitions, chairs, etc., that might be placed in various locations rarely get moved, due to the user’s lack of knowledge about the possibilities. If the person feels unknowledgeable, he usually divorces himself from the change process and leaves it to the “experts” who are often even less knowledgeable about his needs.” (p. 118)

Same applies for the student. He/she must realise his space in the class and the space of the teacher. Healthy distance must be maintained between a teacher and student. Allan Pease divides these distances into different zones like personal zone and public zone.

The gestures of teacher to point a student must be in controlled manner. Some students feel offended with certain gestures like index finger pointing. The negative body language can be barrier in the learning process of a student as he remains more concerned about the gestures rather than understanding the concepts.


We cannot neglect the essential aspect of body language in classroom which is vital for the development and understanding of the student. Non verbal communication of teacher and student must have positive synchronisation. The more positive it is, the more will be its positive outcome. The sitting posture of student and teacher; use of gestures by teacher and student; eye contact between teacher and student; and space of teacher and student are the parameters of healthy and positive communication in a classroom.

Works cited

Bacon, Francis. Of the Proficience and Advancement of Learning, Divine and Human. General Books LLC, 2009. Print

Darwin, Charles. The Expression Of The Emotions In Man And Animals. London:Oxford University Press, 3rd ed.1998. Print explore

Shakespeare, William. Henry VIII. Create Space Independent Publishing Platform, October 10, 2013. Print

Steele, F. I. (1973). Physical settings and organization development. Addison-Wesley, 1973. Print

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