Bootcamp Takeaway 3: Nonverbal activities in a language classroom?


If my goal is to get my students to speak Spanish, why are non verbal activities so important?  Simple, to give the brain a break, make space for more learning and to foster community.

I was reminded of the necessity of nonverbal activities while participating in a Mandarin circle activity.  At bootcamp, Chinese teacher Sally Thorpe adeptly introduced the group to words and phrases such as hello, How are you?,  I am good, I am not well, head, back, stomach, My head hurts, My back hurts, My stomach hurts and most importantly applause!  In the circle, we repeated words with actions, talked to our neighbors and applauded one another about every 30 seconds.  It was a positive experience, but at 10 minutes of the 15 minute activity, I was done.  I didn’t know what I was saying. I had started to confuse phrases and really the only words I could get straight were hello and head.  I felt tremendous empathy for my true beginner students. After this reminder of what it is to be a novice low learner,  I made it my mission to amp up my repertoire of nonverbal activities.

Again, these serve to give students a well deserved break before continuing with the lesson and help to foster community! They are incredibly helpful in a language classroom but could be used in any classroom when students are approaching breakdown.

FOLLOW THE LEADER This is not your playground version of follow the leader, but close.  Students walk randomly in a circle however they choose.  For instance, they may swing their arms, jump, clap or make a goofy noise.  The goal is for students to eventually all be doing the same action.  Once all students are doing the same action, they need to transition onto a different action. No talking is allowed.  Instead, students must watch their peers closely and take a risk by initiating an action.  To make this game more difficult, the teacher can make state that if he or she can tell who began the movement, they will need to choose a new one.  This forces different students to lead the group and not rely on class leaders.

MIRROR MIRROR In groups of two, the students face one another as if looking at a mirror.  One student begins a movement and the other one mimics.  Students may pass off who is the leader and who is the follower. The goal is to be so in synch that the teacher cannot tell who is leading and who is following.

TRACTOR BEAM One student puts out their palm.  The other student lines their face up with the palm, about eight inches away. The student with their palm out, moves their hand and the other student must follow keeping their face equidistant from the palm as if caught in a tractor beam or their force field.  Talk about trust.  My partner had me head banging!

ROCK, PAPER, SCISSORS, SHOOT This is the classic game that we all played as kids.  Why not use it as a brain break?  You may either keep it silent or teach students the words in target language.  You can use it just as a brain break or you can have the loser (or winner) repeat a vocabulary word, use it in a sentence or ask a question depending on the level of the class.

EGG, CHICKEN, DINOSAUR This is an hysterical version of rock, paper, scissors.  Students begin by wandering around the circle and then begin a best of three game of rock, paper, scissors.  The winner of this first round is transformed into a chicken, the loser into an egg.  The chickens and the eggs then circle around the room.  The chickens look for chickens and the eggs for eggs.  You must compete with someone on your level.  After another best of three if the egg loses they stay an egg, if they win they transform into a chicken.  If the chicken loses they go back down to being an egg, but if they win they transform to a dinosaur.  Likewise, if a dinosaur wins they stay a dinosaur, but if they lose they are back down to being an egg!  So to recap, you may only play against someone who is in the same state as you.  If you win, you go up a level and if you loose you go down a level.  If you loose as a dinosaur, you are back to being an egg.

SILENT INTERVIEWS This I can’t wait to do in my Spanish one and two classes.  Maybe another first day activity? In pairs students try to find out as much as they can about one another but without talking.  Students then can state what they learned about their partner or they can act it out.  In Spanish One, I will have the students act out what they learned for the class and supplement new vocabulary words.  In Spanish Two, I will have the students act out what they learned about their partners and have other students write down what they think the students is “saying”.   We will then share what we think we learned about one another. There are many more silent community building activities / brain breaks, but this seems to be a good start.  What are some of your favorites?


2 thoughts on “Bootcamp Takeaway 3: Nonverbal activities in a language classroom?

  1. Courtney

    I was hoping you could say more about how you model and facilitate the silent interviews for a first day or week activity. It seems like a great “accountability/share-out” game. Thank you for sharing your OWL experiences with us.


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