Gesturing Your Way

Pak Man Au, Ehime University

Quick Guide                                                                                                                              

  • Keywords: Gestures, phrases
  • Learner English level: High beginner to low intermediate
  • Learner maturity: Junior high school to university
  • Preparation time: 10–15 minutes
  • Activity time: 10–15 minutes
  • Materials:  Handout (See Appendix)

This simple warm-up activity helps students to practice one of the most common non-verbal cues in communication, gestures. It asks students to use gestures to describe short phrases commonly used in English. As non-verbal communication is often an underestimated part of conversation, this activity reinforces the importance of gestures as complementary cues for verbal communication. This activity uses existing English knowledge and gets students moving about, speaking, and having fun at the same time. Students in the author’s classes enjoyed the “physical” aspect of this activity, as even those students who were more reserved had fun not only acting out the gestures but guessing what the other students were doing as well!


Step 1: Create a handout of common phrases that go well with gestures (see Appendix).

Step 2: Prepare the classroom so that small groups can spread around the class easily.


Step 1: Prior to the day of the activity, distribute the handout and have the students review it to become familiar with the phrases. This may be done as homework.

Step 2: Explain that students are going to act out the phrases on the handout, using appropriate gestures.

Step 3: Have students repeat the phrases on the handout in unison, then ask each student to read one phrase on their own.

Step 4: Conduct a demonstration for the class. Tell the students to watch what you do and raise their hand if they know what gesture from the handout is being done. Choose one of the phrases from the handout and act it out. Choose a student to give the answer.

Step 5: Put students into small groups of 3 or 4.

Step 6: Have the students choose one member of the group to act out a phrase from the handout. As in the teacher-conducted demonstration, the other students will try to guess what phrase was being acted out.

Step 7: Once a student is finished doing their gesture, the other students will take turns acting out the phrases from the handout.

Step 8: After all the groups are finished, choose several students to come to the front of the class and act out one of the phrases from the handout. The other students in the class (except those in their activity group) will guess the gestures being done.

Step 9: At the end of the activity, have students repeat the phrases while gesturing at the same time, for a final review.


A variation of this activity is to have students write their own phrases, instead of the handout made by the teacher. This gives students a chance to be creative and to use interesting gestures appropriately to match their chosen phrases.


This activity increases students’ understanding of non-verbal communication cues that are common in English communication by practicing using appropriate gestures with familiar phrases. In a variation of this activity, students can come up with their own ideas on what gestures could be appropriate for other phrases they may know of.  This warm-up activity will have students in a jovial mood before the regular class begins.


The appendix is available below: